This year sees the launch of the Pocket Classics, a series of short works for pleasurable reading in a pocket-sized format. These books offer an intriguing and original mixture of new and varied reading experiences from a wide range of Scottish writing from different genres and all periods. Think of them as a reintroduction to the impact of the finest writing, whether non-fiction, poetry, short stories or novellas.
These four stories, set at home and abroad, show Muriel Spark’s characteristically witty and unbalancing powers. In ‘The Executor’ the niece of a famous author is pursued by an unfinished manuscript. ‘Bang-bang You’re Dead’ mixes childhood games and white-settler affairs to paint a sinister and comic portrait of colonial life and murder by proxy in Africa. Also set in Africa, ‘The Seraph and the Zambesi’ tells of a Christmas pageant which has the strangest visitor, while ‘Portobello Road’ is a story haunted by childhood friendships and adult betrayals. Together they illustrate why Spark is regarded as one of the greatest living short story writers.
Born in Edinburgh and educated at Gillespie’s School for Girls, Spark now lives in Tuscany.
Her most well-known work is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), a witty portrait of a highly individual and influential teacher at an Edinburgh girls’ school between the wars. The themes of religious fanaticism and the occult run through The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960) which explores the manifestation of satanism in a prosaic suburb.
Spark’s imaginative prose has a highly characteristic tone. Her books are short, cool, dark and witty, while their engagement with moral or even metaphyical questions can be humourous, disturbing, bizarre and surreal. As a Scot with a Jewish-Presbyterian background converted to Catholicism, she has always had an awareness of dualities and moral ambiguity, along with a sharp outsider’s eye for the vagaries of polite society and the metropolitan scene.