Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Lost Booker and The Driver's Seat

I've been meaning to write about the Lost Man Booker ever since I found out about it earlier this year. It's certainly an interesting piece of news in the literary world. If you're not aware of it, the Man Booker Prize began in 1968 as an award for retrospective work. In 1971 it was decided that the prize would be given for the best novel in the year of publication. The award date was also changed from April to November and as a result there was a year's gap when a wealth of fiction published in 1970 was 'lost.' These books were never considered for the prize. Now 40 years later, a panel of judges will choose a short list from a selected group of novels.You can check out the longlist of 22 novels at the Man Booker web page here .

Of all these novels, I've only read two. A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch and a novel I read recently and which I'll be reviewing today, The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark. The novel by Murdoch is as usual when it comes to most of her work, absolutely brilliant. I thought it would definitely get my vote but after reading The Driver's Seat, I'm just not so sure anymore.

The Driver's Seat is such a strange novel that after finishing it I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. But it's not a novel you easily forget after reading it. I soon realised how utterly clever it actually was. It's well-crafted and so original. It's funny that though it's 40 years old, it's never been copied nor has it inspired similar stories in films or other books. It stands alone as a unique piece of work.

The novel is a short one of about 100 pages. It opens with the main protagonist, Lise buying a vibrantly coloured dress and a clashing red and white striped coat at a department store. The salesgirls are horrified. Is Lise crazy or just a little bit flamboyant?  Lise has been working non-stop at an accounting office for 16 years and she's just about to set off on the holiday of a lifetime at an unnamed southern city in Europe. Spark soon reveals that this book will end in Lise's murder but we're not quite sure how it will happen or who among the oddball characters in the book will be responsible. Revealing more would be saying too much about this short novel. I'll just say that this is a murder story of the strangest kind.

Spark's writing is concise, succinct and pitch perfect.  If I had to choose between this novel and A Fairly Honourable Defeat, I would say I prefer the Murdoch novel. But then I do have a soft spot for anything Murdoch. However, considering that she's already won for The Sea, The Sea, I think I'll give my vote to Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, a somehow neglected piece of work by this fabulous writer. Wickedly unique, it deserves to be read by a new generation. Meanwhile I'm tying to hunt down some of the other books on the longlist, specifically Susan Hill's I'm the King of the Castle which sounds like a good read too. The shortlist will be announced sometime in March.


  1. I think it's so cool they're doing the Lost Booker Prize! I'm crossing my fingers that Fire from Heaven gets it. I love love love Mary Renault.

  2. I think I had the same sort of reaction to the Muriel Spark book (I had to go back to my post to recall what I wrote (sorry--can't seem to paste a link here). It was a disconcerting read. She's a very good author--her books so good, but very different from each other. I had no idea what the Lost Man Booker prize was, though I had heard it mentioned. Thanks for the link!

  3. Tantalising review! Muriel Spark's books are hard to sum up aren't they, but often full of stunning scenes and characters. I will look this out.

  4. The Lost Man Booker Prize is great for rescuing great books from oblivion, especially The Driver's Seat, which has been woefully neglected. I think it is an underrated marvel. It is the only nominee I have read other than Troubles by JG Farrell (v. good) and I hope it wins as Spark's work deserves it.

    I reviewed Memento Mori last week and it's very similar to The Driver's Seat in its unsettling nature as well as not quite knowing whether you enjoyed it or not but being certain that you have read something special and timeless.

  5. Between you and Claire, I've been sold - I really need to give Muriel Spark a try soon.

  6. I LOVE your blog, and I am passing on a blog award! meme Details here:

  7. Mrs B: I am glad you liked The Driver's Seat. Of Spark's quirkier fiction in an already fairly quirky yet diverse oeuvre, I think this is one of the quirkiest. And I agreee with othhers here that Spark deserves a revival.

  8. I agree with you about The Driver's Seat. I read it when I was still at school and it made a big impression on me.


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