on 15 May 2007
Fleur Talbot lives on what she'd probably call the grimy fringes of literary London in the early 50s. It reeks with atmosphere - eating sardines in a bedsit, writing poetry in a graveyard, having a brief affair with a married man who then goes off with another man. Fleur becomes close (and, we discover, lifelong) friends with her lover's wife. But this is just incidental. Or is it? In a Spark novel, you never know where you are. Information is dished out parsimoniously, and apparently out of sequence. Life imitates art, art imitates life. Fleur takes a job with a rickety outfit called the Autobiographical Association. She becomes convinced that the man who runs it, Sir Oliver Quentin, has a long term plan to blackmail the members, who include (of course) a defrocked priest and an aging minor aristocrat nicknamed "Bucks" (her real name's Bernice). Fleur begins to feel that she is inventing everyone she knows as her novel takes shape. Skullduggery ensues as Sir Oliver tries to get her novel suppressed (it gives away his evil plans). There's an awful moment (you saw it coming) when Fleur finds that all copies of her novel have disappeared. Who triumphs in the end? Well, it's Fleur herself telling the story.
on 12 August 2010
Fleur Talbot is the narrator of `Loitering With Intent' a wannabe author who is madly involve with books and the world that surrounds them. If that wasn't instantly going to endear me to a narrator then I don't know what would. When a job comes up `on the grubby edge of the literary world' working for the Autobiographical Association she takes it and feels like this could be the perfect job in the right industry and could help her get further in her goal to have her debut novel Warrender Chase published.
There are two things however that Fleur doesn't count on. One was what a strange group of people the Autobiographical Association are and just how difficult, pompous and ruthless her boss Sir Quentin Oliver is. The other is that sometimes life really does imitate art (something I think Muriel Spark was really focused on discussing in this book) as the storylines, character traits and even dialogue of her book start to appear in her work life and then all around her.
I have to admit it's the last bit that I struggled with. I was really enjoying Fleur's story, I loved the crazy and egomaniac characters we were meeting within the Autobiographical Association. Characters are Spark's forte so I knew I would love all of them now matter how vile, in fact sometimes with Spark the crazier the better. I thought the character of `Dottie' a true Sparkian (!?!) English Rose with thorns was brilliant, the fact she was Fleur's lovers wife and yet they were sort of friends and enemies all at once was written brilliantly and made for some great scenes and devious goings on. I especially loved Sir Quentin's mother the wickedly funny Lady Edwina who threw herself into every scene which she could and stole the show.
The problem that I had in the middle was that I just couldn't keep track of the story within the story of Warrender Chase that Fleur was writing and the real world that was going on around it in parts. It was as if at some point I was introduced to too much and couldn't get a hold of it all in my head despite reading several pages twice. I even slept on it and still wasn't quite sure. Eventually though I did get a grasp of it all and the end of the book really picked up for me, Spark almost lost me but never quite enough for me to give up.
on 21 January 2000
'Loitering with Intent' is enchanting. From the very first page the reader will appreciate Spark's keen, creative ability in being able to draw a first-person narrator who is almost faultless, with a strong, contemporary, female voice. Name: Fleur Talbot.
It is a quality rare in most other books with a strong, modern, singular voice -- demonstrated by few other contemporary authors, certainly Greene and Murdoch.
The astute narration ensures great storytelling with unforeseen, complicated twists -- a combination of who-dunnits, what-ifs? and how-on-earths? -- that will keep the reader continuously entertained.
Furthermore, it offers excellent insight into the mind of a writer, as Spark creates a literary protagonist. Fleur's observations are highly witty, intelligent and perceptive, creating real, mildly-ridiculous characters. As we warm to Fleur's vivacity we can't help but share in her mocking.
The parallels of art (literature) to life is a prominent and cleverly developed theme. What is Spark saying? As life starts to dangerously imitate art, does Spark reiterate her character's belief that the two are entirely intertwined; life is not life without art?
Similarly, the relationship between life and religion is then considered (the subtle subtext of the novel), adding a dimension to the tale, whilst remaining highly, and surprisingly, contemporary).
In fact it is the subtleties of the novel that should enthuse the reader, always conveyed with wit and half-explored satire, demanding the participation of the reader's own imagination.
We leave the novel with the conviction that Fleur is infallible. Her triumph becomes our triumph. From her handling of events, her perceptive insight into others both superfically and deeply, her organised chaos and simple attitude to life and aspirations, she becomes the object of deep admiration and envy in every reader.
Whilst the plot may thicken (and sometimes detach the reader), Fleur never fades, nor do her group of friends, the unlikely Edwina and colourful Solly, along with the arrogant Leslie and desperate Dottie. For once, Fleur might agree that a name has been chosen well!!
A fantastic, light read, concise, entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking...
Although I like Muriel Spark's novels it has always been `The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' that has always stood out for me, indeed it is one of my all time favourite books. I have never read anything of hers that has seemed to rival that story in any way - until now.
Fleur Talbot is writing her first novel when she takes a job with Sir Quentin Oliver, the founder and president of the Autobiographical Association. As Fleur enters this new world of weird and wonderful people she starts to see that they in many ways resemble the characters in her novel. When Sir Quentin arranges to have her novel stolen Fleur sees things take on a more sinister turn. With passages of her work appearing in the unpublished autobiographies of the members of the Autobiographical Association Fleur needs to take drastic action.
Darkly funny with a slight whiff of the gothic, Muriel Spark's novel can be read on so many different levels and is a true joy to read.
Fleur Talbot, star of Loitering with Intent, is something of a typical Sparkian heroine. Young, single, living in a bedsit in 1950s London, she aspires to be a writer but when, to pay the rent, she takes a post at the wonderfully-named Autobiographical Assn, chaos ensues.
The great joy of this short novel is the amazing, flawed, larger-than-life cast of characters from down-at-heel clergymen and peers to literary bohemians and wavering Catholics: the feisty Lady Edwina, Fleur's frenemy Dottie and the title-obsessed Sir Quentin Oliver ('I demand total frankness') jostle for survival, as the pen proves mightier by far than the sword. Of course, the jewel in this wayward crowd is Fleur herself, who is 'aware of a demon inside of me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were, and not only that, but more than ever they were, and more and more.'
The only downside, in this attractive Virago re-issue - and it's hardly the fault of Fleur or Muriel Spark - is the deadening introduction by the usually faultless Mark Lawson. In a few pages he manages to mention: Jane Austen, Roald Dahl, Graham Greene, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Evelyn Waugh, David Lodge...
In reality, Muriel Spark needs no such pseudy intro ('use of food as a time code' indeed!). Just dive in and enjoy this comic gem, which helps prove that the dowdy post-war years were something of a golden era for English humour.
Others have reviewed the book itself, but just to point out that this edition's introduction by Mark Lawson is very good and runs to seven and a half pages, taking in Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, David Lodge, Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard, Roland Barthes, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Grahan Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Burgess, Salman Rushdie, John Henry Newman, Marcel Proust and Stephen King!
Worth having if you are a Sparkophile. (i am not even going to try to do a review of the book itself as I think she is a genius and I love her naughty books about the perils of London literary life.)
on 28 September 2012
My favourite Muriel Spark novel to date (though I've yet to read her most famous 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'). I expected to zip through this slim book in a couple of hours, and instead found myself reading slowly to savour Spark's delightful bon mot in her first-person character of Fleur Talbot.
Spark's strength as a storyteller is her shrewd and often incorrigible observations of human nature. Her stories are never about trying to guess the outcome or figuring out who'll do what next, so much as simply revelling in her marbles and invention. A writer with a voice impenitently all her own and a knack for spot on remarks about human behaviour. 'Loitering with Intent' sparks with intelligence, delight and some unhinged and fiendish characters. You can't help but be entertained.
on 20 March 2015
This was first published in 1981 and shortlisted for the Booker prize the same year, though it is set in 1949/50 in London.
The characters, as with all Muriel Spark novels, are wonderful; they are quirky, easy to recall for the reader, and well painted in form and spirit. Sir Oliver, his mother Edwina and Dottie and the protagonist Fleur Talbot stand out particularly.
There is also a lot of humour "Cynthia was in fact having an affair with a fruit-loader at Covent Garden" and a sense of immediate postwar London.
What I found a little irritating was the increasing reference to autobiographical works of Newman and Cellini which are pretty obscure for the average reader, and the ending felt a little too much like a writer talking about writing.
on 22 January 2016
Have read 2 other Muriel Spark novels which I enjoyed as they had a strong storyline. This however didn't keep my attention as much - too many characters who were irrelevant.
on 18 November 2007
I wholeheartedly agree with the praise expressed by other reviewers here. It's good have to have this superb little masterpiece back in print. What a shame, though, that this Virago reisuue is marred by poor proofreading. There are several distracting typographical errors, the most startling of which occurs on page 32, where Father Egbert is made to say: "For me, too, it was a moment of climax. I wrestled with my God, the whore of one entire night."