#28: I WENT ON MY WAY REJOICING: TWO NOVELS BY MURIEL SPARK. Spark, God knows, is a born writer, and even her duds and misfires have a guaranteed sophistication and dark comic sheen; but many times I’ve been disappointed by the insistently brittle quality, the willed comedy that lacks all gaiety, the eyebrow arched over any kind of emotion. But two of her works seem to me to get right above that to be not just comic but genuinely funny and even—good heavens—endearing without a smudge of sentiment. In Loitering with Intent (1981) she plays with the old hairballs of art versus life, fiction versus truth, even the novel versus autobiography, but she really does play: there’s a light, conjuring hand throughout. Its real theme—its emotional source—is the delight in maturity, in coming into one’s strength. It’s a remarkably unsentimental stance, but entirely without bitterness. She conveys the joy of writing, of getting a grip on the world around you and using it as an artist, and teases it. It’s about the choice between using art to embrace and explore life or to imprison it, and it expresses, as well as I’ve ever seen in a novel, the self-confident thrum of early adulthood.
A few years later (1988) she wrote A Far Cry from Kensington, an even more splendidly formed book with a similar if more serene feel. Both are about recollection, about encountering evil and coming away whole, and about escaping old sorrows—finding out that even they don’t last forever. It’s a perfectly contained story, with a feel of looking back with unfooled affection; Spark puts the book together with a delighting sleek precision. There’s emotion in it—there are two deaths, both of which we’re allowed to feel—but because Spark is so long and fastidiously practiced in her art the deaths complete the comedy rather than disturb it. Both novels give the pleasure of watching a sly old master relax into humanity and keep her wits about her. It doesn’t get much better.