The Comforters - Muriel Spark

In Muriel Spark's fantastic first novel, the only things that aren't ambiguous are her matchless originality and glittering wit.
Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. She has an unusual problem - she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters are also possibly deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread - could his elderly grandmother really be a smuggler? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England's leading Satanist.


I absolutely loved this book and I'm not sure I'll be able to do it justice with my thoughts. You might actually rather read Ali Smith's words on it [here]. (You definitely should read Ali Smith's words on it.)

The book follows novelist Caroline Rose as she converts to Catholicism. After coming back from a retreat, she suddenly starts hearing the sound of a typewriter and voices who seem to comment on her thoughts and what is happening in her life. Her boyfriend Laurence is convinced his grandmother is part of a gang smuggling diamonds in the UK and he is investigating the matter.

There are so many characters in this book and they are all colourful and different. Not just different from each other but different from most characters you read in books. They are all described vividly and we get to see their good and not-so-good actions and thoughts.
I adored Louisa Jepp who proves that one can never be too old to start a gang and smuggle diamonds in bread loaves. It feels that unique characters were hand-picked, thrown together in a small arena and put through various challenges. And no, this isn't a prequel to The Hunger Games. Though how awesome would a Hunger Games book written by Muriel Spark be? No, really, think about it!

The writing is quite simply exquisite. There is so much personality running through the pages that I can't wait to pick up Muriel Spark's other books. There is wit, irreverence, playfulness, as well as musings on human nature and life. I feel that by seeing the darker traits of the characters, we're given a glimpse into who they really are and we can't help seeing them as flawed human beings. Except Mrs. Hogg who is just plain evil *shudders*

The book is also a metafiction because of the story in the story. Caroline seems to hear the narrator telling the story of her life and the narrator also hears Caroline's remarks on the storytelling. It gives an original twist on an already unique book.

There are many topics in this book (religion, mental illness, language...) and they are balanced by the deadpan writing and some truly comical scenes. I felt it was such an effective way to talk about such serious topics in this manner as it jolts the reader into paying more attention to what is being said.

There is A LOT happening in this short book and I still can't believe it was published in the 1950s. I'm really happy I set myself this challenge because Muriel Spark's books are an amazing - and timely - discovery for me. The book has already been a great source of inspiration (for writing and reading) and I can't wait to discover all her other books.

Also head over to the New York Times website where you can read articles about Muriel Spark and reviews of her books [here].