Thursday 20 January 2022


 Muriel Spark's second novel, Robinson, is a curious book – but then, which of her novels isn't? 
As the name suggests, it's a castaway adventure of a sort, but the journal-writing narrator is not a man but the familiar fictional proxy of Muriel Spark – cool, sharp-witted, self-aware, steeped in literature and theology. She, the curiously named January Marlow, is one of three survivors from a plane that has crashed on a remote island owned and occupied by the enigmatic Robinson, who lives alone, but for Miguel, a boy he has adopted. One of the survivors – Jimmie, a Hungarian who has learnt his English from works of high literature, turns out to be related to Robinson, in fact his heir. The other is a dodgy character called Tom Wells, who makes a living from a fortune-telling magazine, the sale of lucky charms, and a little blackmail on the side – very Sparkian. 
  January is repelled by Tom Wells (who is not the only dodgy male in the novel), somewhat attracted to Jimmie, and largely infuriated by Robinson. When the last of these goes missing, to all appearances murdered, things become complicated as all the other three become suspicious of each other. For a while Robinson seems to be developing into a standard whodunit, crossed with an action adventure – scenes of peril in the island's secret caves, a fight described in conventional thriller language – but nothing is ever that simple in Spark's fictional territory...
  I enjoyed reading this one – Spark's bright, pared-down style and unpredictable mind are never less than enjoyable – but it is one of her slighter productions. Perhaps, being only her second novel, it was intended to show that she could handle genres that might not have been thought within her range. Happily, though, it remains a curious, Sparkian book. It's a most unusual castaway tale that ends as Robinson does –

 'Even while the journal brings before me the events of which I have written, they are transformed, there is undoubtedly a sea-change, so that the island resembles a locality of childhood, both dangerous and lyrical. I have impressions of the island of which I have not told you, and could not entirely if I had a hundred tongues – the mustard field staring at me with its yellow eye, the blue and green lake seeing in me a hard turquoise stone, the goat’s blood observing me red, guilty, all red. And sometimes when I am walking down the King’s Road or sipping my espresso in the morning – feeling, not old exactly, but fusty and adult – and chance to remember the island, immediately all things are possible.'

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