Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark

A couple of days ago I renewed all my library books and to my horror the system said that I’d run out of chances to renew one of the books – Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark. I thought about taking it back unread but had a slightly irrational feeling of dread. What happens if I missed out on a brilliant book?! At only 160 pages I thought it best just to get cracking…

Reality and Dreams is classic Spark – a novel of observation. The cast composes Tom Richards, a film director, his wife, two very dissimilar daughters and a host of ambitious actor-types. At the start of the novel, Tom is in bed in hospital recovering from an accident. A series of nurses pass in and out, then his family members including his daughters from different marriages – Cora, Daddy’s favourite who is a beautiful girl with a feckless husband and Marigold, with her “formidable face” and puritanical temperament that her parents just can’t get their heads around. As Tom recovers and goes back to work we come across a pair of actresses. There is the gorgeous Rose who Tom is having a relationship with and Jeanne who is as distasteful and annoying as Rose is winsome. As with other Spark books, there is a sinister undercurrent in the novel as she hints that Tom’s fall may not have been so accidental after all. Who in his social would want to do him harm?

In Reality and Dreams Tom acts as the central force around which the other characters orbit. His opinion creates a response in those who surround him either drawing them to him or pushing them away. High up on his directors crane he feels almost god-like and perhaps he is, after all he is the one calling the shots and creating his dream. Dreams, not surprisingly, are a key theme in the novel. The film that he is directing provisionally entitled ‘The Hamburger Girl’ is inspired by a woman he once met at a campsite and from that fleeting moment has invented a whole personality for her. At other times Tom drifts off into a reverie imagining historical figures in unusual situations:

“You bring back the Brontës and stage a rock concert outside their house in Haworth. What would their reaction be?”

The theme of ‘dreams’ also translates into people’s hopes and ambitions causing people to reveal unpleasant sides to their characters. It is a novel where reality is blended with illusion so that at times you’re not sure what is real and what is not.

“‘What we are doing’, Tom told his crew, ‘is real and not real. We are living in a world where dreams are reality and reality is dreams. In our world everything starts from a dream.”

Of course, Spark is herself creating an invented reality, just as much as her film director protagonist. The funny thing is that despite confusing what is real and what isn’t to, Spark maintains her crisp fluid writing style. I found it a quick read and although it made me ponder, I didn’t feel at all lost.

So did I like it? Well I didn’t like any of the characters – they were all horrible, but I often find that many of her characters are unpleasant. This is something that Claire recently noted when reading Memento Mori which is one of my favourite Spark books. It doesn’t put me off however, in fact I find the way that Spark seeks to expose people’s bad behaviour utterly fascinating. While I wouldn’t say this is my top Spark novel (I do think that this, and Symposium will date a bit in a way that I don’t think The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or The Girls of Slender Means will), I did find it very absorbing, and I was genuinely surprised by the ending which had a nasty little twist so I’m glad I read it before taking it back to the library!

Are you a Spark fan? Do you ever have renewal dilemmas at the library?!

12 responses to “Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark

  1. I hate not being able to renew a book. I then always feel pressured to read it but get very little enjoyment because of the necessary deadline. Very frustrating.

    Haven’t read this Sparks yet, but am now rather intrigued.

    • novelinsights

      Yes it is a little annoying. I suppose it makes you take a call on whether you do want to get it read or if it wasn’t really that important in the end!

  2. I always have renewal dilemmas!

    Another Spark to add to the list to read. I agree that Symposium will date but Memento Mori (seeing as it is freshest in my mind) is so timeless in some respects, excluding the telephone exchange!

    Her writing is crisp and fluid and she does sinisterly observational very well.

    If you can, track down her short story “Bang-bang, You’re Dead”; I don’t remember much about it (it’s been about seven years since I read it) except that it made a big impression at the time.

  3. Spark and Persephones are the ones that seem to become unrenewable for me, though a certain YA novel is also needing to be back soon which means I am going to have to read it.

    I like that Spark writes dark and horrid characters and we still like her books, she is clearly good at it, either that or Spark lovers just put on their blinkers.

  4. Renewal dilemmas are an almost daily occurrence for me! I really like Spark’s work – the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry from Kensington are both excellent. I haven’t read Reality and Dreams yet so I will have to go back to the library soon!

    • novelinsights

      I don’t think I’ve read A Far Cry from Kensington. I’ll have to see if I have it amongst my collection…

  5. I read my first Spark this month (Far Cry from Kensington) and absolutely loved it. Wanted recommendations on what to read next, and don’t think I know the answer to that yet.

    Thanks for the review – it does sound enjoyable, despite the unlikeable characters.

    • novelinsights

      If you want to read another Spark I would recommend Momento Mori or Girls of Slender Means. Outside of that there’s a whole world of choice! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Novel Insights February Review « Novel Insights

  7. I haven’t read any Spark, but I find myself drawn to books with unpleasant characters. Maybe because they tend to be more interesting. Or maybe I get some sort of weird pleasure out of disliking fictional people. *shrugs* In any case, great review. I think I might start off my Spark reading with your suggestion, Memento Mori. 🙂

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