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?!