Loitering With Intent / Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark was a prolific writer, publishing works from 1950 through 2004, two years before her death at age 88.  Mostly known for her numerous novels, she was also a well-regarded poet, wrote several biographies and plays, as well a children’s book.  Loitering With Intent, a novel, was published in 1981 when she was 64.  Told in the first person, it purports to be a memoir that tells how a then-struggling author, Fleur Talbot, came to write her first novel, Warrender Chase.  In the “fullness of [her] years,” Fleur looks back to the days and months of 1949-1950 when she came to create her first significant work.  Even though financially challenged, she describes this period of her life as joyous.  Fueled by youthful enthusiasm and a passion for writing, Fleur never doubts for a moment that she had found her true calling in life.

Set in a London still dealing with strict rationing following the war, Fleur relates how she got involved as a secretary for the Autobiographical Association, a collection of rich egoists who decide to compose their memoirs in advance.  The leader of this group, the pompous Sir Quentin Oliver, has hired her to improve and spice up the poorly written memoirs of the Association’s members.  Fleur soon begins to suspect that he may be running a con game, intending to use their memoirs for some nefarious purpose.  Sir Quentin and his little sect will become the fuel for her writing career.  Late in the book, Fleur confesses, “under one form or another, whether I have liked it or not, I have written about them ever since, the straws from which I made my bricks.”

I have no idea if, through Fleur, Spark is telling the story of her own early days as a writer.  Nevertheless, her lead character captures what young women writers at the time were subjected to in a profession dominated by men.  Exemplified by Fleur, one comes to understand the satisfaction that writing brought to Spark herself.  In this novel, she shows not only how life influences fiction, but how in turn fiction influences the world around it.  Loitering With Intent is a paean to the joys that creativity brings to writers, good or bad.

The novel, while funny throughout, also seriously addresses the foibles of writing an autobiography.  It can be used to excuse or deflect shortcomings one would rather not confess.  As Fleur herself admits, “I was aware of a demon inside me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were.”  In the members of the Autobiographical Association, Spark presents a motley cast of characters she takes delight in sinking her teeth into.  A decade following her death, Spark’s life work continues to enchant readers discovering the gift that she shared with the rest of us.

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