Symposium, Muriel Spark
She was twenty- three and he was twenty- nine; they had met in London in the fruit section of Marks & Spencer’s, Oxford Street, less than four months ago. She had spoken first: ‘Be careful, those grapefruits look a little bruised.’
Who else could get that blend of the bizzare, the romantic and the puzzling. She's like a Barbara Pym meets Ford Maddox Ford. Or is her real competition the crime writers, to show them the real mysteries are spiritual and emotional? There is a murder in the book as well.
It was time for drinks. Their conversation became rather contrapuntal. He lamented the fact that he hadn’t been near his studio the whole afternoon.
‘It’s Sunday,’ she said, as if that were a factor of any sort.
He was vaguely looking at the mantelpiece. ‘I adore the Salvation Army,’ he said, with what relevance nobody will ever know.
‘Nivea cream’, Chris said presently, as she sipped her vodka and tonic, ‘is my Proust’s madeleine. The only reason I use it. Total recall.’
‘Do you know,’ mused Hurley, ‘those growers, the Ferrandi family, one of the cousins was killed by his wife with a blow on the head from a bottle of his own brand of champagne. The French make their bottles very heavy. Especially champagne.’
‘Helen Suzy and Brian have accepted,’ said Chris. ‘I wonder how long that marriage will last?’
Isn't that a book you want to read? A lot of modern writers could learn from Spark. You can't see it if you haven't read the book till then, but this conversation creates a new mood, casts new suspicions, makes a good joke of juxtaposition about Helen and Brian (he's an aged Lord, she's his daughter's friend; the book opens with him describing a burglary as being like rape; she talks about St Uncumber at the dinner party, the saint you pray to to relieve you of your spouse), and brings a sense of disunity to the characters talking that we might not have seen before. It's a plot shift without being explicit.
I haven't finished Symposium, but I am enjoying it.