Beloved — Toni Morrison / The Driver’s Seat — Muriel Spark

I have resigned to the fact that I will not be able to write about all the books I read in 2014 by the end of the year, but that’s okay, my OCD level isn’t too high in this particular area. So this might be the last post of the year, since I’m flying away tomorrow to  what is in this part of the world called  the Far East, or in my language South East Asia :). I’m also keeping the Best of 2014 post for next year (I just cannot bring myself to do it before the year ends).

Beloved — Toni Morrison


Beloved was the last book I read for the Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship reading list (which I have talked about in the past). I also had not read Toni Morrison before and she’s in the Nobel list, so really it was about time that I spend some time on it.

And boy it was a long time. Beloved is only around 220 pages long, and it felt really, really, really long. I think I spent around 6 weeks on it. It wasn’t like I tried to speed up – I was kind of in a busy period in other aspects of life as well – but it felt like I was moving at snail’s pace.

I’m glad that I spent time on this book and that I finished it, but I’d say it wasn’t too enjoyable an experience. The subject matter was hard to swallow, and the way the story is told was far from being straightforward. Unlike some people, I didn’t have problem at all with any elements of magical realism, I was totally fine with things left unexplained for example, but overall it’s a challenging book. It’s… muddled. I’m not sure if I’m going to read another Toni Morrison, just like I’m not sure whether I’m going to read another William Faulkner. Maybe not in the near future, but never say never :)

The Driver’s Seat — Muriel Spark

driversseatmuriel spark

One of the greatest things about Muriel Spark’s book is that they’re short. I so so love that they’re short. The Driver’s Seat is only shy of 100 pages long, and yet it’s smart and sharp. I love short book done well, lean, with every word written for a purpose. The Driver’s Seat is all those things, a controlled piece of writing. If ever I were to write a short book, I wish to write like Muriel Spark.

I have read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, back in 2010, so this is my second Spark’s novels. I heard that all her novels are just as good, so now after reading The Driver’s Seat and with some faint memory of Jean Brodie, I can be confident that I will like her other books as well.

I felt like I was in safe hands while reading The Driver’s Seat, even though the story was really odd, unsettling, and unusual. If you intend to read the book, I highly suggest that you do not read any blurbs or reviews, as it is extremely easy to spoil the book. I read one review on Goodreads after I finished reading the book and someone casually just mentioned the whole ending in the first sentence! (Unbelievable. I have since flagged it, and that particular review is now marked with spoiler warning.)

Why is it easy to spoil the book? Because you really have no idea what’s going on until the end. In essence, by giving away what the book is about, you give away the ending. You need to trust the author all the way through the book, which is probably not an easy feat, but I did. I felt like I was in the safe hands of a masterful author.

Happy Christmas all! 2014 has been a great reading year for me, and I can’t wait for 2015!


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieI’ve been intrigued by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie since it was featured on the First Tuesday Book Club late last year and how it is often included in the various book lists (e.g. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read). Coincidentally, Muriel Spark is an author who is well loved in the blogosphere. I finally picked it up a couple of months ago (the post is severely delayed because I needed to find the time to watch the movie first to talk about them together).

First thing I noticed was how little I know about UK in general. I had to look up Edinburgh and The Brownies (thinking surely this is not brownies the chocolate cake?). Set in 1930s at an all-girl school, there are Miss Jean Brodie and her set of six girls–her “crème de la crème”.  As a teacher Miss Brodie is highly opinionated about what should be taught, what is important, and what’s worth learning, often straying off the school’s curriculum path, to the horror of the school’s principal. The girls, as such impressionable ages (starting since they’re 10), for better or for worse devouring everything that is passed by their favorite teacher.

A couple of techniques Spark used in the book that really stood out for me were flash-forward (the reader is often given a glimpse of the future) and repetition. Now I dislike repetition in book (which is why I didn’t like The Road) so I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. For such a short book however, it helped to distinguish the multitude of characters. For examples, one of the girls is repeatedly described as the one “famous for sex”, one has “small, almost non-existent eyes”, one likes Math, one is good at gymnastic, and one dies in the fire.

I liked the intricacies of the characters and their relationships. As a small book, it contains a lot of ideas and an array of intriguing characters. So though The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is not earth-shattering for me, it whet my appetite for Spark’s works and I will look out for more in the future.

I leave you with a passage that echoes what I often thought as a teenager.

muriel spark

“Supposing that passion struck upon them in the course of the evening and they were swept away into sexual intercourse? She saw the picture of it happening in her mind, and Sandy could not stand for this spoiling. She argued with herself, surely people have time to think, they have to stop to think while they are taking their clothes off, and if they stop to think, how can they be swept away?” ~ Sandy, p46

4 stars
1961, 170 pp

First line
The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Read the Book See the Movie

Also reviewed by
Arukiyomi | Books 4 Breakfast | Suko’s Notebook | A Work in Progress (this and other Spark’s books)

The Movie (1969)

the prime of miss jean brodie film

There was a gap of a couple of months between me reading the book and watching the movie. I didn’t feel much about the book so I didn’t have high expectation. But after somewhat of a slow start, the movie almost suddenly became really really good! And I was left really impressed at the end of the movie! Maggie Smith was amazing in this role, like she’s born for it, like the screenplay was written for her! Little wonder then that she won Oscar for Best Actress in 1970 for the role of Miss Jean Brodie. It was the perfect cast.

But wait, there’s more! The girl who played Sandy (one of Miss Jean Brodie’s girl) was just as amazing! Unlike movies these days where people are usually cast for much younger roles, the girls here seem to be at the right age, like they are in the book (okay, I checked that Pamela Franklin, the girl who played Sandy, was 18-19 during the movie, so she’s actually older, but still.) In any way, she totally blew me away. What a shame that she doesn’t play another prominent role after this film and seems to disappear into obscurity.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable movie. It stays true to the characters and to the spirit of the book. The Brodie set was minimized into four girls instead of six, and a couple of girls were combined, but I think it worked just as well. Since the movie emphasized some of the scenes, I got to understand the characters even better than when I was reading the book. Odd I know. It rarely happens that a movie is better or on par with the book, but I think this might be just one of those cases.

Rating: 8/10

ps: There was nudity in the film. How shocking is that for a classic film such as this?

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