“I'm old-fashioned beyond my years.”
The use of satire and irony are trademark characteristics Muriel Spark's writing although with this novella, her technique is not nearly effective, nor compelling as some of her other works such as "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" or even "The Comforters." After finishing, I could not help but ask myself: what does it all add up to? My conclusion is, not a whole lot. The story unfolds very much like a 19th century Romantic stage play by Joanna Baillie or Mary Robinson that is interested in gender relations while cheekily ridiculing the follies of the aristocracy but it lacks the emotional depth and complexity of her predecessors. Perhaps one could make the observation that Spark is playing with the Gothic genre although these conventions do not serve any particular purpose other than establishing the setting. Of course, such a criticism may seem questionable since Spark is working within a constrained narrative framework but there still lacks a considerable amount of potentially rich subtext that does not get fully developed. The prose consists of very little descriptive passages and the bulk of the story (or lack thereof) is driven by playful and witty dialogue that Spark is exceptionally capable of delivering. She attempts to cleverly explore the tensions between class hierarchy by focusing on the perspectives of the servants who work for the Baron and Baroness of a wealthy Geneva estate only to come up short in delivering any kind of substantial social critique.
Led by an inscrutable and devious butler named Lister, the household servants plan an elaborate and utterly bizarre plot to benefit from the tragic scandal of their rich employers by accumulating wealth and becoming glorified celebrities through the media as witnesses to a tragic incident that occurs late at night on the estate. Spark seems to be commenting on media culture and the way it is purposefully manipulated to benefit those in power (or those seeking to establish themselves amongst the echelons of society) in order to maintain their dominant ideologies. Unfortunately, the novella does not leave much room to explore this central theme in much profundity and instead, comes across as a mildly entertaining farce.
Read on April 3, 2012