Muriel Spark is an author that I return to time and time again because I enjoy her dark humour and the incisive, often cruel way that she dissects human behaviour. I wouldn’t say that I have loved every Spark novel I have read (The Finishing School, for example left me a little cold) but I am always fascinated by the characters that she creates, and with equal relish, usually, pulls apart.
The Bachelors has taken me a little while to review for this reason. I didn’t love it, but I was fascinated by the characters and was intrigued to see what would happen to them all.
The setting is London, the subjects, single men – some cruel, some cunning, all somehow lacking, and in their way slightly pathetic. There is Ronald Bridges, probably the most likeable of the characters in the book. He is an epileptic who has tried and failed to control his seizures, and has simply learned to accept that they happen, ensuring that he is rarely in public when they happen. Matthew Finch, blessed with beautiful black curly hair, has a weakness for girls but ‘a great conscience about sex’, and eats raw onions in a bid to repel any female admirers. Then there is Patrick Seton, a very dubious medium who is being taken to court for fraud and is considering bumping off his pregnant girlfriend, yet still seems to manage to pull the wool over people’s eyes. A rather cutting portrait of the London bachelor, and the women in the novel don’t get off lightly either, depicted as wimps, neurotic or permanently in denial.
I liked the character of Ronald, who was such a stoic. I also thought Patrick was a brilliant villain and wished that he was even more central to the story line or rather that there was more of a focus on him. There were some poignant moments between particular characters and I really felt as if I was the omniscient being, watching people interacting amongst their rather strange and disjointed social circles. At times, however I just found myself frustrated at trying to keep track of all the different people in the book and found myself wondering what was going on!
The Bachelors is a witty novel, but perhaps a little too smug in parts and could have done with a few of the less interesting characters being removed completely in my opinion! If I’m being a little harsh, it’s only because I have come to expect so much of Muriel Spark…
6 out of 10