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The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver's Seat (1970)

by Muriel Spark

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6584020,838 (3.61)106
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English (37)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Simultaneously full of excellent details* of the minutiae and purposely vague on plot details, this high-strung novel is darkly lurid and garish. In signature Spark style, the easy, sharp prose of the story belies its rich themes and symbolism. Recommended for already-experienced fans of Spark.

*There was almost something Perec's-Life-A-User's-Manual-esque about the incredible amount of details with which Spark furnished her settings, particularly in her description of Lise's uncomfortably modern apartment. ( )
  kitzyl | Jul 23, 2018 |
Muriel Spark is an author I have been meaning to properly get to grips with for a long time, having only read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – which I liked but didn’t love. Although I already had two or three other Muriel Spark novels tbr – this was recommended to me recently by a bookseller on Twitter. I knew nothing about the book, but the cover practically sold it to me. I’m glad I knew nothing about the novel before I started (the blurb to this edition intrigues without giving too much away).

The Driver’s Seat is immediately unsettling, we meet Lise who appears to have been driven to distraction – working in the same office for sixteen years. Lise is leaving everything behind – jetting off to an unnamed European city.

“Her lips are slightly parted: she, whose lips are usually pressed together with the daily disapprovals of the accountants’ office where she has worked continually, except for the months of illness, since she was 18, that is to say, for 16 years and some months. Her lips, when she does not speak or eat, are normally pressed together like the ruled line of a balance sheet, marked straight with her old-fashioned lipstick, a final and judging mouth, a precision instrument.”

As the novel opens Lise is acting a little erratically – the reader still doesn’t know Lise – we don’t know what she is doing – and yet sense that something isn’t right. She’s shopping for holiday clothes. In the first shop, Lise tries on a brightly coloured dress she likes the look of, the assistant excitedly tells her how it is made of new stain-resisting material. Lise is outraged – that she should need stain proof garments! – her anger is out of all proportion – and our sense of things being a little bit out of kilter is increased.

Lise goes to another shop – no stain-resisting materials here to upset her. She selects a brightly coloured dress – overlooked by most shoppers – a yellow top, with the skirt a pattern of blue, mauve and orange vs. She selects a coat to wear over the top – narrow, red and white stripes – a combination the salesgirl delicately suggests couldn’t be worn together – Lise laughs off such advice. (Here we see how utterly perfect the cover of this Penguin Modern classics edition is). Everyone is wearing mini-skirts – Lise seems happy to wear her skirt well below the knee – and so, thus unfashionably and garishly attired she is transformed – and it would appear quite deliberately unforgettable.

Lise leaves everything behind – intending to leave her car keys in an envelope for someone to pick up she is distracted at the last minute and goes off with them still in her hand. Lise seems to be embracing the new excitements and freedoms of the 1960s.

“‘Sex is all right’ he says
‘It’s all right at the time, and it’s all right before’ says Lise, ‘but the problem is afterwards. That is, if you’re not an animal. Most of the time, afterwards is pretty sad.’”

She boards her plane, seating herself between two men, one of the men instantly feels uneasy about her. The other one seems very happy to meet her, instantly engaging Lise in conversation – Bill – is a proponent of the macrobiotic diet, and wants to meet up the following day. We can’t be completely sure if there’s something odd about Bill – other than his diet. Once they have landed – in what we assume is a Mediterranean city – Lise sets about bringing to fruition her plan – whatever that may be. She talks brightly and loudly to everyone she meets, seems to be searching for a boyfriend, accompanies an elderly woman to a department store – more shopping. The reader never gets especially close to any of these characters – we don’t need to – their presence merely helps to show Lise for the self-destructive nightmare that she is. Lise also remains something of an enigma, we never know her inner thoughts, fears or motivations – of course this is deliberate. We really get to know Lise through her extravagances her increasingly strange behaviour – and as we struggle to understand her – our mind goes back to the woman who shopped for deliberately garish clothing, jibbed at stain-resistant fabrics and left everything behind her.

I am loath to say anything else about the plot, I really wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. In a sense a review can’t possibly do justice to this extraordinarily, dark novella. Muriel Spark messes with our heads brilliantly, subverts our expectations – and leaves us with a story that is both uncomfortable and unforgettable.

Reading The Driver’s Seat has definitely whetted my appetite for more Muriel Spark – I know I have three others buried somewhere on my tbr bookcase – I would love to tell you which ones. However they are hidden by stacks of other books and I can’t remember which they are – but I shall have dig them out sometime soon. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 29, 2017 |
THE DRIVERS SEAT is a venomous little novel about an incredibly unhappy woman. Spark's story is of Lise, the woman in bright colours, who is looking for someone, a man, on her trip to the South. Peppered in the prose are nods to the future, where the people she passes will eventually testify seeing her before she died. A crime in reverse, with a really quite terrifying protagonist. Despite the author's obvious skill, in the end this was an unsatisfying read in that there is so little provided to help understand the outcome - which was stated baldly far too early in the story for me. ( )
  Jawin | Apr 15, 2017 |
1970 book for my birthday challenge.

This is the second of Muriel Spark I've read, and here she uses the flash-forward device as well as she did in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The reader gets told what will happen but keeps reading to find out why. It was quite a trip! ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Jan 23, 2017 |
This review was first posted on BookLikes:

Also, before you read on, please note that this review contains SPOILERS!

What kind of person would go ballistic on finding out that the dress she was looking to buy is made of a fabric that does not stain?

Anyone? Anyone?

Nope, I don't know anyone to do something like this either but guessing from the way the story of The Driver's Seat develops, Lise is not like most people - Lise is having a breakdown.

I say I'm guessing this from the way the story unfolds. This is because the story is not told from Lise's perspective. The narration does not delve into an exploration of Lise's mind. All we get to know is what Lise does and that she will die, but not what she thinks.

Therefore, we are faced with the task of deducing her mindset, her character, from her actions. Guessing just as much why Lise objects to a stain-proof dress, why she walks out of her job after 16 years, why she goes on a trip, and why she makes up a net of lies and personas in the course of her adventure. Or should this be mis-adventure?

This is a short but utterly compelling read. It's darkness reminded me of Shirley Jackson's stories, but Sparks succeeds where Jackson failed - The Driver's Seat made me gasp, it made me sit on the edge of my seat, ignoring the ringing of my phone. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Sparkprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dench, JudiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lanchester, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'And the material doesn't stain,' the salesgirl says.
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Lise is driven to distraction by her office job so, leaving everything, she flies south on holiday. But what is she looking for? Infinity and eternity attend Lise's last terrible day in an unnamed southern city. Originally published: London: Macmillan, 1970.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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