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Appointment in Arezzo: a friendship with…

Appointment in Arezzo: a friendship with Muriel Spark (2017)

by Alan Taylor

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313541,984 (4)7
This book is an intimate, fond and funny memoir of one of the greatest novelists of the last century. This colourful, personal, anecdotal, indiscreet and admiring memoir charts the course of Muriel Spark's life revealing her as she really was. Once, she commented sitting over a glass of chianti at the kitchen table, that she was upset that the academic whom she had appointed her official biographer did not appear to think that she had ever cracked a joke in her life. Alan Taylor here sets the record straight about this and many other things.With sources ranging from notebooks kept from his very first encounter with Muriel and the hundreds of letters they exchanged over the years, this is an invaluable portrait of one of Edinburgh's premiere novelists. The book will be published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Muriel's birth in 2018.… (more)



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Alan Taylor met Muriel Spark and her friend Penelope Jardine when he went to Italy to interview them for The Scotsman in 1990. They discovered a shared sense of humour and a common Edinburgh background (quite a few decades apart) and hit it off immediately, and that evening in a restaurant in Arezzo led to a friendship that was to last for the rest of Spark's life. It sounds as though she treated him as a kind of honorary stepson: Taylor and his family were invited to house-sit for the ladies when they went off travelling in the hot summer, when required he acted as an informal research assistant for Spark's writing projects and escort on her professional travels, and he had to sympathise and advise on endless domestic disasters. He has gone on to edit Spark's collected novels, and has written many introductions to her books and essays about her.

This modest and entertaining memoir of their friendship is more like an extended review of Spark's importance as a novelist than a name-dropping exercise, though. We get glimpses of Spark in private life and a discussion of her endless fights with biographers and memoirists — Taylor is conscious that he's on thin ice in this regard, so he stresses that everything he's written has been checked and approved by Jardine — but the real focus is on how she came to write those wonderful novels and why we should go on reading them. Perhaps redundant, but enjoyable anyway! And I learnt a few interesting things about Spark I didn't know, for instance that William Shawn provided her with her own office at the New Yorker that she could use whenever she happened to be in the city — she insisted on having it redecorated, because she found the colour-scheme too drab. ( )
  thorold | Oct 13, 2019 |
I became aware of this book through the Radio 4 Extra serialisation and the fascination I had with the reading brought me to the book and then to Muriel Spark. I hadn't read anything of her work before, but as I picked up more information I suddenly realised what I have been missing. I invested in the Polygon hardback reissue of her 22 novels plus this excellent biography.
Alan Taylor's memoir does exactly the right thing by demonstrating his love of his subject without being sycophantic. It seems to be the perfect intro into the literary world of Muriel Spark. ( )
  DukeofEarl | Jan 29, 2018 |
“This book is an intimate, fond and funny memoir of one of the greatest novelists of the last century.”

Alan Taylor has written a very personal and compelling biography of his friend, the novelist, Muriel Spark. Spark wrote 22 novels which will be coming out from Polygon next year in handsome hardback editions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Spark’s birth. Best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Spark also wrote short stories, plays, reviews, essays and biographies.

“The Muriel Spark 100 programme will celebrate the life and literary achievements of one of Scotland’s finest and most internationally respected writers across the year, through a series of events, including talks, exhibitions, readings, publications and screenings.”

In advance of the reprints and the 100 years program Alan Taylor’s biography is published in November 2017. I received an advanced copy in return for a review.

Taylor first met the author in 1990 in Tuscany when he interviewed her. They hit it off and Taylor subsequently house sat for her as well as accompanied her on some of her foreign trips. He came to know her well and this is an intimate portrait.

Written in a very companionable style the book creates a colourful picture of Spark. A passionate and fiercely intelligent woman and one of our greatest writers. Taylor includes the contentious stuff – her attitude to her Jewish roots, her failed marraige, her estrangement from her son and her self-exile from Scotland. But the threads of her life are woven into a tale of warmth that shows the great affection Taylor had for her.

It does what a biography should – it brings to life the subject and makes you know them better. Spark comes across as someone you’d like to invite to a dinner party. I’ve read several of Spark’s books and she’s one of those authors you look out for in second hand shops, so a new set of hardbacks is very welcome.

If you are a fan of Muriel Spark then this is a must have biography. If you are just generally interested in writers lives it is also well worth your time. Recommended. ( )
3 vote psutto | Oct 11, 2017 |
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