Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Comforters – Muriel Spark

I had to take a second stab at this book. I’ve done that twice now with books, and found the second time I could read them. I’m not sure what makes the difference; probably just my mood…but it did this time. I enjoyed this book very much. It was so different then the other books I’ve been reading by Virginia Woolf and Anna Kavan. In this story, people knew or figured out what was going on in others lives. They didn’t just make assumptions on how the other characters were feeling. In this story they try to find out. Even to the extent of being really nosey. I loved it.

Laurence Manders is a snoop and has been his whole life. His grandmother is up to something, she seems to have a “gang” of men that come around to play cards. He wants to find out what is going on, not because he wants to save her from any wrong doing. He just can’t stand not knowing what is going on with people around him. His grandmother is very proud of his ability to snoop and enjoys his attempts at finding out.

Laurence’s girlfriend, Catherine, has become a devote Catholic, and is on retreat when she is introduced to the story. She comes across Mrs. Hogg who was a servant of the Manders. She seems to be very sinister, though a she says a lot about being a devote Catholic. You spend most of the book trying to figure out what her game is. Catherine runs away from the retreat, because Mrs. Hogg upsets her. When she gets home, she starts hearing a typewriter and voices repeating the thought she has had. This part reminded me so much of the movie “Stranger then Fiction” (which I loved). You wonder if Mrs. Hogg has something to do with this.

So what does all this have to do with each other? You find out that each character is living out their own fantasy, but they soon end up all tangled up with the others. It is so much fun to be taken for the ride and to see what piece is going to fit in where.

This is Spark’s first book, and she bit off a bit more then she could handle….I thought with all the different plot lines…. but she handles it really well. At the end you feel that you’ve had a fun ride and all of the questions have been answered for you. Along with the fact, you get a lot of insight into each character.

I’ve found recently reading the writers of this era; they are really good at describing people and giving you a good explanation of the motives of the characters, without using psycho-babble. For instance Laurence’s Dad finally makes an appearance at the end of the book. He was either on one retreat or another.

…he had been given cause to wonder if he did not make his retreats too frequently. Amazing things occurred at home; extraordinary events which he never heard of till later.

‘Why didn’t you inform me at the time, Helena?’

‘You were in retreat, Edwin.’

He had misgivings then, about his retreats. He told his spiritual director, ‘I might have done better to spend the time at home. My family have had to cope with difficulties…my son…my brother…my mother-in-law…one of our old servants…I might have done better had I not made so many retreats.’

‘You might have done worse,’ said the shrewd old priest, and sounded as if he meant it. It was a humiliating thought, which in turn was good for the soul.

‘They managed admirably without me,’ Edwin Manders admitted.


Edwin has qualms about being out of things at home, but in the end knows that he can’t really handle it. So he is better off in a retreat hiding from the world. I thought Sparks tells us this in a really cunning way, instead of just saying, he can’t handle family problems. Her writing is lovely too. All in all a good read, I mean who could resist a grandmother who runs a gang of thieves!

(Spark, Muriel. The Comforters. London: Macmillian, 1985.)

1 comment:

the booklady said...

I just stumbled on your blog Dawn. I used to live in the UK also--from '81-'85. Lucky you! It's lovely isn't it! I enjoy your writing!

cheers, booklady