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on 30 March 2017
A dark, twisted and ultimately gripping read.
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on 3 August 2017
So often the world of Muriel Spark is one of dark secrets and sinister revelations, usually held together with a creaking and ominous tension that fills you with a delicious trepidation as you slowly step deeper and further into it.

In keeping with much of her other work, this is a creepy and uncertain journey into continental Europe, but also into the mind of a sick woman who has had enough, and to some extent has decided to take matters into her own hand. This often makes for uncomfortable and even confusing reading, but in there lies the beauty. It’s a bit of a dark puzzle that raises plenty of curious questions and makes for pleasurable reading. You can see how Spark informed the writing of people like Ali Smith here, particularly with the likes of “The Accidental”, which also relies on the use of some strong, dark and enigmatic feminist themes.
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on 17 September 2016
Took me years to really 'decode' this books since I read it as a teenager. As dark as it gets on the subject of female power. A number of reviews here seem to take the story literally. I think it's more a kind of bible-story done inside out: about how little power we have over the only thing we truly own, ie at least a little power over the circumstances of our own death. Feminist landmark. Wonderful.
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on 15 January 2018
Utter depressing vulgar drivel. No wonder some people are depressed when they read this garbage. Listened on the radio and had no idea what was to come. Would never buy the book.
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on 16 June 2016
The Driver’s Seat (1970) is another miniature masterpiece from the excellent Muriel Spark.

It’s the era of the mini skirt in Britain, and Lise readies herself for an Italian getaway in order to “get a rest”. We notice there’s something odd about Lise. That feeling grows when she’s aboard as we see her unravelling, moving from middle-class eccentricity to some kind of mental breakdown. What will happen to Lise and where will she end up?

Spark’s precise prose trims every loose word, leaving us a skeleton of a book that is 108 pages long. We never know if Spark loves her characters or not. She presents them with a journalistic eye, reporting the facts and nothing more. Yet she allows us to love them. Lise is marvellously opinionated; take this earnest remark she makes to an old woman she’s teamed up with and dragging around the shops: “If he uses a paper-knife,” Lise says, “obviously he isn’t a hippy. If he were a hippy he would open his letters with his fingers.”

A highlight of this work, and one she does in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), is forewarning the ending. Usually I dislike that technique as I believe a strong ending is a device that should be held back to create greater dramatic impact, but with Spark it works incredibly well, probably as it’s done so matter-of-factly.

My comparison is completely chalk and cheese, but it did remind me of Hunter S. Thompson’s magnum opus novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972). It’s the way both protagonists effortlessly lie that formed the link.

The Driver’s Seat is a spectacular novella. It starts funny, becomes frightening and finally pitifully sad. The more I read of Spark’s work, the greater my admiration grows.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 3 November 2016
One of Muriel Spark's lesser known novels among the twenty-two she wrote, this is nevertheless a unique and disturbing work by a writer who never wrote the same book twice, as it were, and can shock the reader far more by her brisk, matter-of-fact narrative skills than many a writer who sets out to shock. {Her unselfconscious, seamless prose and deft dialogue are qualities a Martin Amis, say, can only dream of.}
Lise {who could be British, French, or what? "Who knows, who can tell" as Spark would and does say at one telling point in the book} is in her thirties, has been working in the same office job for sixteen years, and decides to have a holiday. She books a flight, boards it, and lands in an unspecified {Italian?} city where events escalate along with Spark's poised but headlong present-tense narrative, until the shocking denouement ~ which, in true Sparkian style, we learn about early on in the novel.
The devil is in the details in this astonishing, outrageous, almost amoral tale. The author can arrest the reader with a mere verbal shrug, or a seemingly throwaway phrase or dash of dialogue; and the novel is full of hyper-realist dialogue as Lisa, by now worryingly distracted to say the least, hooks up with a variety of unlikely, disparate people she meets on and after her journey. One senses {indeed one knows} all along that things will not end well. The title is both sadly ironic and drily sarcastic.
John Lanchester's excellent and perceptive introduction to the 2006 reissued Penguin edition of this mid-career 1970 novel is well worth reading, but after one has read the book. This is no 'great work' as such, but it is certainly a superbly crafted, highly original, too often neglected, and in its eccentric way deeply subversive novella by one of the most courageously original British writers of the twentieth century.
I gave this four stars at first, but to hell with that. It's simply too good, too crazily frantic, and too unforgettable, for anything less than a full recommendation.
Spark ~ what an apt name!
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on 31 January 2017
I can safely say this is probably one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. And I really liked it.

This is one of those books that deserves to be read in one sitting - it's only around 100 pages long, so it can easily be read in one night - and once it's finished there's a good chance you'll need to let it stew before you can figure out how you feel about it, but however you feel at the end of it this book is certainly an experience.

Lise, bored with her office job, decides to go on holiday, but everything has to be perfect. She finds a new outfit, creates a new persona for herself and sits between two men on the plane. What follows is deliciously dark.

It's difficult to review this book without giving anything away, and while Spark herself tells the reader what's going to happen at the end long before the end I don't really want to spoil the surprise for anyone out there who wants to read it. All I will say is that The Driver's Seat was described (by Muriel Spark herself, I believe) as a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit; who commits the crime within these pages isn't important, but why the crime is committed is the focus of the book and it's written so brilliantly. Spark has a real talent for writing peculiar, unhinged women and it wouldn't surprise me if Gillian Flynn had learned a thing or two from her.

I would have liked to have gotten into Lise's head a little more, which is why I didn't give The Driver's Seat five stars. We're always held at a distance from her, though the book still packs a real punch, but I'm not sure if I got enough why from this whydunnit or if Spark intended for us to fill in the blanks ourselves. This book will stay with me, though, and I'm going to be recommending the hell out of it to people just so I have someone I can talk to about it.
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Spark's story is of Lise, the woman in bright colours, who is looking for someone, a man, on her trip to the South. Peppered in the prose are nods to the future, where the people she passes will eventually testify seeing her before she died. A crime in reverse, with a really quite terrifying protagonist.

Muriel Spark is author of one of my other favourite novellas, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Thoroughly recommend!
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on 25 November 2010
Though known better for her subtly subversive, insightful and often tragic novels, such as 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' and 'The Girl's of Slender Means', Muriel Spark's 'The Driver's Seat' is perhaps her most innovative, and definitely her most provoking novel. The short, staccato novel tells the tale of Lise, an office worker, stifled by her mundane and uniform existence, who goes abroad in an attempt to find 'the one' in the form of a man. Spark's cruel, and quickly apparent twist, appears to be that 'the one' will be a man whom she wants to invoke some form of sexual crime or severe sexual deviancy upon her, whilst she is forced to subjugate to him, and this realisation gives the novel a sense of horror from the very early stages. Set around a vapid, soulless expanse of shopping malls, traffic jams and faceless hotels, Spark's novel gives a very powerful evocation of the sense of an absence of humanity and connectedness in the mid-late 20th century of her writing.

In Lise, Spark has a heroine who is a sort of diametric opposite of characters such as Jean Brodie. Terse, antagonistic and clearly in the throes of mental dissipation; the outlandishly dressed Lise forces the novel to unravel in a purposefully hectic style, as Lise appears to become more convinced of her plans, and equally further away from her sanity. Hugely troubling and genuinely startling, even for the contemporary reader; the only thing the novel falls down on is Spark's purposeful but sometimes maddeningly repetitive implications of what is wrong with this modern world in which Lise exists. Equally, though the technique of making the reader feel a sense of alienation by making Lise so other, and not giving her the qualities with which one would traditionally empathise, makes the novel especially hard to connect with, as superbly written as most of it is. For those looking for a gripping and challenging look at the human condition on the brink of itself, this is a superb work; but one that most readers aren't going to find themselves altogether enjoying the experience of.
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on 27 April 2016
I bought this book as it was my local Waterstones' book club, book of the month (for April).

I was intrigued by the tantilizing blurb and the simple cover. I've never read anything by Muriel Spark before but, after reading this odd but charming book I can definitely say she will be adorning my bookshelves more regularly.

The story is about an unhappy woman called Lise who decides to take control of her life. We soon find that instead of finding herself like many young female characters do, she (Lise) does the opposite. She seeks to end her life. Muriel Spark cleverly switches Lise's place in this narrative from protagonist to antagonist and back again.

I am also in love with the way she touches on what to me seems to be the subject of poor mental health; namely depression and a need for death.

Definitely not an easy read because of all the backwards and forwards with Lise's mental state and choices but definitely worth a go.
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