never apologise, never explain


All Muriel Spark’s novels are fiercely composed and devoutly starved. Her brilliantly reduced style, of “never apologise, never explain”, seems a deliberate provocation: we feel compelled to turn the mere crescents of her characters into round discs. But while some of her refusal to wax explanatory or sentimental may have been temperamental, it was also moral. Spark was intensely interested in how much we can know about anyone and in how much a novelist, who most pretends to such knowledge, can know about her characters. Lest this seem like an abstract preoccupation, observe how beautifully she pursues this inquiry in her best-loved work. By reducing Miss Brodie to no more than a collection of maxims, Spark forces us to become Brodie’s pupils. In the course of the novel we never leave the school to go home, alone, with Miss Brodie. We surmise that there is something unfulfilled and even desperate about her, but the novelist refuses us access to her interior. Brodie talks a great deal about her prime, but we don’t witness it, and the nasty suspicion falls that perhaps to talk so much about one’s prime is by definition no longer to be in it.

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