If Only...

One of the sadder aspects of a brilliant writer’s passing is thinking about the particular books he or she will never write. Certain subjects belong to certain writers as if granted by God, and when they die, they leave us looking around and lamenting, “If only Bellow or Waugh, Fitzgerald or Murdoch, were here to take on that!”

Eccentric, mordantly witty, and unapologetically religious, the Scottish-born Muriel Spark died last month at eighty-eight. Spark was the author of more than twenty novels—concise, elegant explorations of human self-deception, pretension, and frailty set against the mysterious workings of Divine Providence. She was best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which explored the malign influence of a charismatic and imperious teacher in an Edinburgh school for girls. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age,” Brodie boasts, “and she is mine for life.”

Many of Spark’s books took up explicitly metaphysical themes, but always in enigmatic and satirical ways. In The Comforters, an aspiring novelist hears the sound of a mysterious typewriter in her head, only to discover that she and her characters are also characters in someone else’s novel. In Memento Mori, a group of elderly friends is harassed by an anonymous phone caller whose only words are “Remember, you must die.” The Abbess of Crewe, a wicked parody of the Watergate...

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