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Loitering With Intent [Paperback]

Muriel Spark
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 12 2012 New Directions Classics
Muriel Spark in prime form: one of her most enjoyable, complex, and instructive jeux d'esprit. "How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century," Fleur Talbot rejoices. Happily loitering about London, c. 1949, with intent to gather material for her writing, Fleur finds a job "on the grubby edge of the literary world," as secretary to the peculiar Autobiographial Association. Mad egomaniacs, hilariously writing their memoirs in advance—or poor fools ensnared by a blackmailer? Rich material, in any case. But when its pompous director, Sir Quentin Oliver, steals the manuscript of Fleur's new novel, fiction begins to appropriate life. The association's members begin to act out scenes exactly as Fleur herself has already written them in her missing manuscript. And as they meet darkly funny, pre-visioned fates, where does art start or reality end? "A delicious conundrum," The New Statesman called Loitering with Intent.

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From Publishers Weekly

Art, reality and the strange ways the two imitate one another are at the core of Muriel Spark's delightful Loitering with Intent, first published in 1981. Would-be novelist Fleur Talbot works for the snooty, irascible Sir Quentin Oliver at the Autobiographical Association, whose members are all at work on their memoirs. When her employer gets his hands on Fleur's novel-in-progress, mayhem ensues when its scenes begin coming true. Generating hilarious turns of phrase and larger-than-life characters (especially Sir Quentin's batty mother), Sparks's inimitable style make this literary joyride thoroughly appealing. ( June 28)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

A delicious conundrum. -- The New Statesman

Generating hilarious turns of phrase and larger-than-life characters...Spark's inimitable style make this literary joyride thoroughly appealing. -- Publishers Weekly, 18 June 2001

I found it a delight from start to finish—funny, unexpected and compulsively readable...this strange, immensely enjoyable novel. -- Auberon Waugh, Daily Mail

One of Spark's very best novels—funny and clever and surprising. -- The New Republic

The most intensely Sparkian of her books. -- The Listener

Though first published only 20 years ago, Spark's offbeat fiction certainly deserves a place in [ND's] line of contemporary classics. -- Kirkus Reviews,, 15 February 2001

Unsurpassable. -- The Times Literary Supplement [London]

What a coolly crafted, wickedly funny novel this is! -- Daily Express

[O]ne of Muriel Spark's most accomplished moral fables or puzzles...it provides considerable insight and wit, and no easy answers. -- A.S. Byatt

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One day in the middle of the twentieth century I sat in an old graveyard which had not yet been demolished, in the Kensington area of London, when a young policeman stepped off the path and came over to me. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Spark, as always, completely captures the reader with her straight-on energy and wit. She is a master at this craft, always providing honest and intimate portraits of real, but sometimes quirky, humans. This is nothing new for her. What I find especially intriguing about this novel is the striking perspective it takes--that of a young lady diligently pursuing her destiny despite the hilarious, distracting, and downright mean actions of those more "adult" than she.
This perspective, of honest and thoughtful youth, I find refreshingly sane. The protagonist triumphs completely over the obstacles set before her by employers, publishers, and especially, friends, ultimately realizing her full potential and achieving success. She also defeats passion to some extent, by remaining thoughtful and true to herself, a lesson I find extremely important for young people in modern society, where so little guidance is offered in this area. Though overcoming passion, Fleur is by no means dispassionate, nor is she judgmental or moralizing. She simply recognizes and accepts others for what they are, choosing to spend her time at things most important to her. The clarity of self-perception Spark offers us is, I feel, poetic and inspirational. She manages to convey strength as a force of will and self-worth, rather then the all to frequent hodge-podge of money, appearance, peers, employers, etc., offered by the mass media to young people today.
I hope that this book would be used in cirruculum for teenagers or summer reading programs.
Was this review helpful to you?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of her best; one of the best books ever April 25 2000
Format:Hardcover
It's hard to believe this book is out of print (as it appears to be in many editions). Spark is the finest living English writer (as of early 2000, she's still with us) and this is one of her best novels. It folds back in on itself. It's obviously autobiographical even with the kind of foreshadowing and self-reflection of the author, who doubles back the flashback, first seeing herself, then seeing herself remember herself.
The plot is fascinating and a constant undertow back into the same themes of the true reality of a book. Is this memoir (fictional) told by an unreliable narrator? I think so. It's hard to know. Some events seem Kafkaesque in their bizarreness, but then turn out to have plain explanations.
Ultimately, evil bizarrely destroys itself; good triumphs with sacrifices. All is never as it appears with Ms. Spark.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of One's Life Aug. 9 2003
Format:Paperback
There is a sense of the autobiographical in this novel which in fact is quite appropriate when one considers the actual pivot around which the whole plot revolves. As a note of caution however I must add that I make this statement without having any knowledge at all of Muriel Spark's actual life. As the author spins out the plot she manages to capture the essence of the main character's experience as a secretary for a group of people organized by an individual with the sole aim of writing their biographies so that they may be put away in a safe place for seventy years and their contents not actually revealed until all the people mentioned in these sets of memoirs are actually no longer alive. The idea is that this will be of interest to the historian of the future. Not that the novel itself concentrates unduly on the efforts of this group but rather on the intellectual and emotional reactions of the novel's main character, a young writer whose main concurrent aim in life is to get her first novel published. She is quite a likeable and attractive character and in fact she seems to be the only normal person amongst the rest of the characters portrayed in the novel, even though this impression may in fact be subconsciously and gradually formed in the reader's mind by the first-person point of view of the novel since everything is seen and judged through the eyes of the novel's main character. Even though this is a rather short book it is rather rich with experience and latent meaning well beyond the mere surface of the mostly humorous type of entertainment that pervades it from beginning to end.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Tis a pity Nov. 20 2007
By Reader
Format:Paperback
I wholeheartedly agree with the praise expressed by other reviewers here. It's good have to have this superb little masterpiece back in print. What a shame, though, that this Virago reisuue is marred by poor proofreading. There are several distracting typographical errors, the most startling of which occurs on page 32, where Father Egbert is made to say: "For me, too, it was a moment of climax. I wrestled with my God, the whore of one entire night."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brazen Spiritual 'Biography' Of "A Woman And An Artist" June 6 2005
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Muriel Spark's 'Loitering With Intent' (1981) is a remarkable autobiographical novel based on the author's experiences on the intellectual and literary fringes of post-World War II London; the book may be Spark's greatest achievement following 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1961).

Wise, poised, hilariously funny, and almost seamlessly written, the book is also wonderfully instructive: Spark was fairly impoverished in 1949, and 'Loitering With Intent' reveals not only how an individual can successfully combat the banal "evil of the everyday," but perfectly illustrates Camille Paglia's maxim that "poverty is no excuse for groveling."

In fact, the voice of narrator Fleur Talbot is not unlike the voice of Paglia at her determined, sharp-tongued, pretension-piercing best. Fleur, like Paglia, calls it as she sees it, and isn't afraid to acknowledge that some people are irredeemably and aggressively awful. But Fleur doesn't avoid such people as a matter of principal: she accepts them as inevitable and lives a life of creative "infiltration": "I was aware that I had a daemon inside me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were, and not only that, but more than ever as they were, and more, and more." Fleur reveals other unusual skills as the story develops: like many artists, she is a bit of a mystic, a bit of a shaman.

Also like much of Paglia's work, 'Loitering With Intent' is something of a blistering attack on high WASP hypocritical good manners and social decorum.

While Fleur clearly believes in human decency, fair play, and politeness, she also believes in determined counterattack when duly provoked ("I was not any sort of a victim; I was simply not constituted for the role"), and her responses can be volcanic ("I was glad of my strong hips and sound cage of ribs to save me from flying apart, so explosive were my thoughts").

Fleur uninhibitably recognizes her eventual adversaries as "swine," "stupid," "awful," "hysterical," "insolent," and "self-indulgent fools." The Baronne Clotilde du Loiret is "so stunned by privilege that she didn't know how to discern and reject a maniac," homosexual poet Gray Mauser is "small, slight, and wispy, about twenty, with arms and legs not quite uncoordinated enough to qualify him for any sort of medical treatment, and yet definitely he was not put together right," and a friend has "the ugliest grandchild I have ever seen but she loves it."

'Loitering With Intent' is partially a transposition of Spark's experience of the Poetry Society in the late Forties, when she held the position of General Secretary. In her autobiography, 'Curriculum Vitae' (1993), Spark stated that she was "employed, or embroiled, in that then riotous establishment." In the present novel, Fleur becomes workaday secretary to the Autobiographical Association, a "crank" operation run by social snob and blackmailer Quentin Oliver, who also suffers from a messianic complex of vast proportions. Ever perceptive, Fleur is confident that what she is witnessing around her is pure collective madness.

In Spark's first novel, 'The Comforters' (1957), protagonist Caroline Rose slowly awakens to the fact that she, everyone she knows, and indeed her entire perceived universe are actually only the fictional creations of an unknowable author composing Caroline's history on some unrealizable, presumably higher plane.

In 'Loitering With Intent,' almost the opposite is true: as Fleur nears the end of completing her first novel, she becomes aware that the members of the Autobiographical Association are genuine human doppelgangers of the characters she has created, enacting an identical drama to the one she has constructed purely from her imagination. Thus, Fleur has foreseen the future unaware, and hazily anticipates the unavoidable disasters to come to those who are manipulative, vain, arrogant, and power-crzed.

One of the book's most fascinating elements is the chronically antagonistic relationship between Fleur and the aptly named Dottie, the maudlin wife of Fleur's bisexual lover, Leslie.

Dottie is 49% friend and 51% enemy, and thus their oddly symbiotic relationship is of a kind most readers will recognize as having experienced at some point in their own lives. "I don't know why I thought of Dottie as my friend but I did. I believe she thought the same way about me although she didn't really like me. In those days, among the people I mixed with, one had friends almost by predestination. There they were, like your winter coat and your meager luggage. You didn't think of discarding them just because you didn't altogether like them."

'Loitering With Intent' is also one of the most acute examinations of the artistic temperament ever committed to paper. "When people say that nothing happens in their lives I believe them. But you must understand that everything happens to the artist; time is always redeemed, nothing is lost, and wonders never cease." And: "I have never known an artist who at some in his life has not come into conflict with pure evil, realized as it may have been under the form of disease, injustice, fear, oppression or any other ill element that can afflict living creatures. The reverse doesn't hold true: that is to say, it isn't only the artist who suffers, or who perceives evil. But I think it is true that no artist has ever lived who has not experienced and then recognized something at first too incredibly evil to be real, then so undoubtedly real as to be undoubtedly true."

The novel is also a celebration of applied self-knowledge and the self-confidence that evolves from it: Fleur repeatedly realizes "what a wonderful thing it was to be a woman and an artist in the twentieth century," and, regardless of the formidable enemies positioned against her, continually "goes on her way rejoicing."

In keeping with the era in which it is set, 'Loitering With Intent' also includes a brief tribute to Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell as Leopold, Cynthia, and Claude Somerville, owners of The Triad Press, the publishers who eventually accept Fleur's prescient first fictional work.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of One's Life Aug. 9 2003
By Manthos A. Mattheou - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There is a sense of the autobiographical in this novel which in fact is quite appropriate when one considers the actual pivot around which the whole plot revolves. As a note of caution however I must add that I make this statement without having any knowledge at all of Muriel Spark's actual life. As the author spins out the plot she manages to capture the essence of the main character's experience as a secretary for a group of people organized by an individual with the sole aim of writing their biographies so that they may be put away in a safe place for seventy years and their contents not actually revealed until all the people mentioned in these sets of memoirs are actually no longer alive. The idea is that this will be of interest to the historian of the future. Not that the novel itself concentrates unduly on the efforts of this group but rather on the intellectual and emotional reactions of the novel's main character, a young writer whose main concurrent aim in life is to get her first novel published. She is quite a likeable and attractive character and in fact she seems to be the only normal person amongst the rest of the characters portrayed in the novel, even though this impression may in fact be subconsciously and gradually formed in the reader's mind by the first-person point of view of the novel since everything is seen and judged through the eyes of the novel's main character. Even though this is a rather short book it is rather rich with experience and latent meaning well beyond the mere surface of the mostly humorous type of entertainment that pervades it from beginning to end.
20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of her best; one of the best books ever April 25 2000
By Glenn Fleishman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's hard to believe this book is out of print (as it appears to be in many editions). Spark is the finest living English writer (as of early 2000, she's still with us) and this is one of her best novels. It folds back in on itself. It's obviously autobiographical even with the kind of foreshadowing and self-reflection of the author, who doubles back the flashback, first seeing herself, then seeing herself remember herself.
The plot is fascinating and a constant undertow back into the same themes of the true reality of a book. Is this memoir (fictional) told by an unreliable narrator? I think so. It's hard to know. Some events seem Kafkaesque in their bizarreness, but then turn out to have plain explanations.
Ultimately, evil bizarrely destroys itself; good triumphs with sacrifices. All is never as it appears with Ms. Spark.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Rose Dec 9 2007
By Linda Pagliuco - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An aspiring writer striving to complete her first novel, young Fleur Talbot finds herself loitering in post WWII London with the intent of gathering material for her literary debut. When she is offered a job as secretary to an eccentric troupe of autobiographers, it seems like just the thing. And it is, but in stranger ways than she could have foreseen. And what an eye has Fleur for the foibles of her employers, who, being Very Important People, lead Very Ordinary Lives. As Fleur incorporates what she is learning into the fabric of her novel, some of the VIPs begin to sense that art is imitating life - or, is it the other way around? Perhaps her book is a little too good, and it's nearly lost before this serious but amusing literary tour de force draws to a close. But Fleur is no English Rose, she's one smart cookie who, after a series of mis-steps, beats her nemesis at his own game.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mature and energetic exploration of life's formative years Sept. 3 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Spark, as always, completely captures the reader with her straight-on energy and wit. She is a master at this craft, always providing honest and intimate portraits of real, but sometimes quirky, humans. This is nothing new for her. What I find especially intriguing about this novel is the striking perspective it takes--that of a young lady diligently pursuing her destiny despite the hilarious, distracting, and downright mean actions of those more "adult" than she.
This perspective, of honest and thoughtful youth, I find refreshingly sane. The protagonist triumphs completely over the obstacles set before her by employers, publishers, and especially, friends, ultimately realizing her full potential and achieving success. She also defeats passion to some extent, by remaining thoughtful and true to herself, a lesson I find extremely important for young people in modern society, where so little guidance is offered in this area. Though overcoming passion, Fleur is by no means dispassionate, nor is she judgmental or moralizing. She simply recognizes and accepts others for what they are, choosing to spend her time at things most important to her. The clarity of self-perception Spark offers us is, I feel, poetic and inspirational. She manages to convey strength as a force of will and self-worth, rather then the all to frequent hodge-podge of money, appearance, peers, employers, etc., offered by the mass media to young people today.
I hope that this book would be used in cirruculum for teenagers or summer reading programs.
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