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This review is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

TELLING EXPERIENCE Muriel Spark, The Stories of Muriel Spark (Bodley Head) £12.95

Muriel Spark has done as much as any post-war British novelist to re-invent the novel form, and beside her work much contemporary fiction seems dry, contrived, or simply lazy. Her novels are never merely fleshing out a preconceived plan - one is always aware of a sense of exploration, of what Robert Pinget called 'the adventure of writing'. Yet the short story - with its strict demands of economy and structure - is much less amenable than the novel as a vehicle for such gifts. Inevitably, perhaps, there will be a certain cramping of style.

The stories collected here abundantly illustrate how very far this is from being the case: limitation becomes a source of inspiration. Above all, one is struck by the tremendous variety of styles and modes of telling Spark employs. The earliest stories, set in Africa, have a first-person narrator who seems very close to Spark herself; these, often, are exercises in realism, but the supernatural is never far away (as in 'The Seraph and the Zambesi'). Some stories, particularly those about artists, like 'The Fathers' Daughters' and 'The Executor', have an air of Henry James; others, like 'The Portobello Road', obliquely re-visit folk story themes while maintaining a contemporary setting. Others again, like 'The First Year of My Life', explore the fantastic much more openly, in a racy manner which recalls Italian writers like Dino Buzzati more than any English practitioners: 'You will shortly be hearing of that new school of psychology . ...

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