Symposium by Muriel Spark

Symposium by Muriel Spark was one of my Lovely Loans that I picked up more than a month ago so I thought I’d better get it read! At just under 200 pages it also represented a bit of a change from the wonderful but slightly chunky books that fI’ve read lately (The Moonstone & The Shuttle).

Symposium starts and ends at a dinner party at a house in Islington. The wealthy hosts serve salmon mousse and have a manservant to pour the wine. Topics of conversation include a robbery, a honeymoon in Venice and marriage. Margaret Murchie and William Damien recently wed (they met in the fruit section of Marks and Spencers, don’t you know…) become the topic of much speculation. They seem adoring of each other but their host doesn’t give their marriage a year. Margaret seems to attract unfortunate incidents, and Hilda Damien, her mother-in-law, just can’t get over an uncomfortable feeling about her. Is it motherly instinct or simply unfounded suspicion?

Symposium is classic Spark. While uses one seemingly light-hearted event as a starting point, it encompasses a wealth of odd situations including violence in Hampstead, nastiness in a nunnery and a criminal conspiracy. She starts with small-talk and peels it away to reveal her characters deepest darkest thoughts. As with many Spark novels there is a strong theme of pre-destination, and references to Catholicism – you get the feeling that someone is doomed, somehow! She also uses her favourite technique of telling you what nasty things are going to happen and then leaving you for several chapters to find out why and how.

I really enjoyed Symposium. There are lots of characters (even in just a few pages) so it took me a while to remember all the names to begin with, but I loved the way that the plot got very thick, very quickly. After reading The Finishing School which I enjoyed but didn’t love, I was a bit worried that I was going off the boil a bit with Muriel Spark which I would have been very sad about. However, Symposium is up there with favourites for me like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means and Momento Mori – a perfect little morsel of the macabre set against the backdrop of everyday life.

Have you read Symposium? What Spark novels have you read (if any)?

16 responses to “Symposium by Muriel Spark

  1. I am definitely having to get hold of a Muriel Sparks book, this sounds really good, great review!

  2. This sounds like another wonderful Spark novel. It never ceases to amaze me, even having read her, how she produced so many marvellous works! My favourite is still The Girls of Slender Means, am going to read The Drivers Seat next I think.

  3. I’ve never read any! I think I need to remedy that soon. I’ll see what the library’s got. This one sounds good though

    • I love Spark and looking at the books you review on your blog I think you might too. Let me know what you think when you do try one!

  4. I thought Symposium was great. I love that Spark is completely original and quirky yet a dinner party seems to be such a banal setting (it’s far from banal, I know).

    Loitering with Intent is definitely my favourite so far; it’s completely bonkers and refreshing.

  5. Symposium is the next Spark I want to read, I think my current favourite is ‘A Far Cry From Kennsington’ but I have recently read and loved ‘Loitering With Intent’ and ‘The Comforters’. I keep picking up Symposium in shops then putting it down again – I don’t want to over do Spark and go off her but it’s an effort of will not to just give in and go for it.

    • I’m not sure that I’ve read ‘A Far Cry…’ but I do know what you mean. When you love an author you don’t want to overdo it! I say go for it 🙂

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  8. thank you, nice review. I adore “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ” and will certainly read this one as well!

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    • novelinsights

      Thanks! I would also recommend Momento Mori – that’s one of my favourites, and The Girls of Slender Means which you might like if you enjoyed Prime… 🙂

  9. Just finished Symposium which I purchased years ago. There it was on the book shelf and some inner voice said pick it up. I did and I really enjoyed it and will now search out other SPARK novels. Didn’t want it to end…

  10. Hey, just wanted to say I really liked your review. I’ve just reviewed ‘Symposium’ and it’s always interesting to see what other people thought of the book. Glad to see that you enjoyed it too!

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