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The Complete Short Stories
Muriel Spark

 

"presently, by the mute flashes of summer lightning, we watched him ride the Zambesi away from us, among the rocks that looked like crocodiles and the crocodiles that looked like rocks."

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

The great joy of this collection is its eclecticism. Muriel Spark is perhaps best known for her acerbic wit and her economic style which some call ‘sparse’. Certainly, her later novels, like The Finishing School, are pared down to the extent that they read a little like film scripts. Readers who know Spark for her novels may be surprised by the range of style and subject matters tackled in her short stories. Nearly every genre is covered here, from the ghost story to the surreal fantasy, social commentary, murder mystery, psychological thriller, even a nod at science fiction.

It’s a great collection for writers wanting to study the short story form and for readers who want to explore the same. Spark won awards for several of her stories including famously The Seraph and the Zambesi, one of the short stories in this collection, a fantastical tale of the English celebrating Christmas in the rainforest with a climatic scene set at Victoria Falls which stayed with this reader for a long time. Perhaps my favourite story in the collection is the brilliantly funny, cruel and ultimately poignant story You Should Have Seen the Mess. Spark adopts a narrative voice which is utterly alien to her – and to most of her readers – and uses it to weave a compelling story of misplaced snobbery across the class divide. Terrific.

The collection is also noteworthy for containing stories so short they would today fall into the category called ‘flash fiction’. The Girl I Left Behind Me is a superb example of how Spark can tell a complete story, in this case with a jack-knife twist in the tale, in just two pages. By contrast, The Go-Away Bird unfolds in fifty pages as a densely plotted, claustrophobic and tension-cranking masterpiece. Miss Pinkerton’s Apocalypse, about a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-England couple who encounter a flying saucer in the shape of a piece of airborne Spode, has a joyous, irreverent feel which speaks of the fun Spark had playing with, and sometimes breaking, the short story convention.

 
Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, LitBits, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, Kaleidotrope and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia "Winter Kills" Contest in 2007 with her story The Chaperon. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Sophie Hannah "The Fanastic Book of Everybody's Secrets"   
Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication Date: 2001

Paperback/Hardback?Paperback

First collection?: No

News: The Muriel Spark Society Short Story Competition For 2008, the year in which she would have celebrated her 90th birthday, the members of the Muriel Spark Society and the Edinburgh Writers’ Club are being given the chance to win a competition run by her own Society.

Author bio: Muriel Spark was born and educated in Edinburgh.  Active in the field of creative writing from 1950 (after winning a short-story competition in the Observer), her many subsequent novels and stories, such as Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, The Only Problem, A Far Cry From Kensington and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (adapted successfully for both film and theatre), remain phenomenally popular throughout the world. She also wrote plays, poems and children's books as well as biographies of Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë and John Masefield.  Her first autobiographical volume, Curriculum Vitae, was published in 1992.  She was elected C.Litt. in 1992 and was awarded the DBE in 1993.


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If you liked this book you might also like.... :

William Trevor "The Collected Short Stories"

Anything else by Muriel Spark.

What other reviewers thought:

The Guardian

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NewStatesman

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