I had five minutes to kill before a lunch meeting and ducked into a local used bookstore in Oakland. I had recently become enamored of Franklin books and asked what they had. Right in front of me was a collection of about 25 such volumes. One of them was "The Only Problem" by Muriel Spark signed by her. Ms. Spark is one of my two towering literary heroes, the other being Haruki Murakami.
Obviously, I bought the book and read it quickly on vacation. "The Only Problem" concerns Harvey Gotham, a British academic roughing it in France to work on his book on "Job." And that is the source of Spark's title, "The Only Problem" which for Harvey is the dilemma of believing in a a benevolent God when that God has allowed for such widespread human suffering. The plot concerns Harvey's estranged wife Effie, her sister Ruth, Harvey's good friend Edward Jansen, married to Ruth but now estranged from her because she goes to live with Harvey. Effie appears to have joined a terrorist group and Harvey is now implicated by marriage and the French police question him several times.
If this summary sounds uninspiring that is no accident. The story is weak, the characters aren't fleshed out and the philosophical element concerning "Job" doesn't go anywhere. Yet despite all that, the book is written by Muriel Spark which means her intelligence, distinctly minimalist style and humor shows up on every page. I can't recommend the book for anyone other than die-hard fans. But this fan thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience of flipping the gold-leafed pages and handling this leather-bound autographed copy on my vacation.