Muriel Spark: “The Driver’s Seat”

My previous experience with the work of Muriel Spark was her 1959 novel Memento Mori, which I read last year on something of a whim. But I’d always heard good things about The Driver’s Seat, her 1970 novella, so opted to try it out as my next Spark.

The copy I read was a trusty leather-bound library edition from the year of publication – 40 years ago now – with previous readers’ annotations colouring my perceptions along the way. It was a short read, at only 160 pages in big text, but my goodness does it stay with you. I can’t quite remember the last time a novel left quite an impression.

The Driver’s Seat challenged my views on the narrative and the role of character; giving away the fate of the main character, the completely bizarre but quite sad Lise, in the third chapter of seven is a stroke of genius that I certainly hadn’t expected. Lise as a character is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever come across; the narrative isn’t omniscient and there are lots of “maybe she thought this” or “she might have done this”: nothing concrete. I like that. Lise’s quirks and foibles are obviously borne out of a mental illness, and she’s not exactly likeable, but there’s an inherent melancholy to her humdrum, bland life.

I also loved the other characters who pop in and out: the friendly (if a little batty) elderly lady Mrs Fiedke, a trove of would-be suitors for Lise like Bill and Richard, and the girls at the store where Lise buys her garish clothes.

I don’t want to reveal more of the plot or the style, but suffice it to say that if you haven’t already read The Driver’s Seat, I highly recommend you do. It won’t leave you in a hurry.


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