The Snobs, besides being the title of the book, is also one of the stories included in this brief collection of short stories by Muriel Spark. The other four are The First Year of My Life, The Fortune-Teller, Christmas Fugue, and the Executor. At ten rupees, I considered this book a steal. Muriel Spark is well known and has won many literary awards for her stories with their twists and plots that have readers intrigued till the end.
This book was my first sample of Muriel Spark’s writing. I have to be honest and say that while the twists in her stories were certainly intriguing, I was not as enchanted as I have been by many other books. Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Glassblowers by Daphne du Maurier, and The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald come to mind as examples of books that have held me completely captive. I realize that this is probably a reflection of certain preferences that I have while reading.
I’m not sure if I should offer short descriptions of the stories since they’re tiny tales with plenty happening. It’s difficult to say where I might be spoiling the reading experience for someone else. But if I may try: The first story in this collection, The Snobs, is about an amusing couple who are such frightful snobs. The First Year of My Life is, again, fairly self-explanatory. It’s the story about the thoughts of a baby, a few months old, who baffles everyone by refusing to smile. The Fortune Teller is a bewitching tale about a girl whose destiny is altered unexpectedly without her being aware of it.
Christmas Fugue is the most difficult to explain: Cynthia believes her life has become ‘empty’ in Australia after her cousin, Moira, leaves. It is interesting to read about the occurrences that reverse it. The fifth story, The Executor is a gripping account of Susan Kyle’s experience as her uncle’s literary executor.
The stories have been told very well. They’re imaginative, descriptive, and unlikely. Muriel Spark’s writing is intelligent and sharp, with a good dose of black humour and elements that add shock. It made me think of a friend I had in college who was disturbingly observant, appeared clairvoyant, and said the most outrageous things. We used to tiptoe around her because we never knew what to expect. And that’s how I imagine I might feel if Muriel Spark were alive and I happened to meet her. I have developed a mild distaste for a style with a caustic edge. I would much prefer to meet Penelope Fitzgerald, whose writing style is gentler and somehow friendlier.
One other thing that I am unable to appreciate anymore is extravagant absurdity. I felt that the short stories by Muriel Spark reminded me of the short stories for adults written by Roald Dahl. Now I like Roald Dahl’s writing for children. In fact, I adore it along with Quentin Blake’s engaging illustrations. But I do not care for Henry Sugar or any of the other characters invented by Roald Dahl for his adult readers, or the stories that they’re in. I don’t think I enjoy the absurd as much as I used to.
Apart from personal preferences that draw me towards other books and other authors, I liked Muriel Spark’s lucid writing and dead pan way of saying things. There were parts that made me laugh. Her writing, without a doubt, is stylish.
The pilot walked up the aisle towards Cynthia. He sat down beside her.
‘A complete nut. They do cause anxiety on planes. But maybe he’s harmless. He’d better be. Are you feeling lonely?’
Cynthia looked at the officer. He was good-looking, fairly young, young enough. ‘Just a bit,’ she said.
‘First class is empty,’ said the officer. ‘Like to come there?’
‘I don’t want to – ‘
‘Come with me,’ he said. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Cynthia. What’s yours?’
‘Tom. I’m one of the pilots. There are three of us today so far. Another’s coming on at Bangkok.’
‘That makes me feel safe.’ (pg.38)