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Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark
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Territorial Rights (1979)

by Muriel Spark

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Perhaps because of the Venetian setting, this glorious romp of a crime novel that refuses to take itself seriously sometimes feels as though Spark is sending up Patricia Highsmith. There is a beautiful, over-inquisitive boy (escaped from The Comforters via Death in Venice), a Ripleyesque, amoral American millionaire, and a set of supremely prosaic English adulterers (a retired headmaster and his former Domestic Science teacher), all mixed up with a ludicrous Bulgarian spy plot, Italian gangsters and a dodgy detective agency that specialises in blackmailing its clients. And the headmaster's offstage wife who is forever nodding off to sleep over viciously-parodied excerpts from a sixties kitchen-sink novel. Far too much going on, not much chance of identifying any deeper meaning, but great fun. ( )
  thorold | Apr 20, 2018 |
Another witty tangle of characters and events from Muriel Spark. Everyone in the novel is hiding something, often a secret identity or mysterious past. Robert, a young art student (or is he a male prostitute?), has just arrived in Venice, supposedly to complete his studies, having just broken off a complicated but unexplained relationship with Curran, a wealthy American art dealer. He no sooner arrives at the Pensione Sofia than he runs into his father--and a female companion. Back in England, Robert's mother, suspecting that her husband's travel companion is more than a colleague, contacts a private investigator--but her friend Grace decides to do her own detective work, arriving in Venice with Leo, a much younger man, in tow. Meanwhile, Robert's Bohemian artist girlfriend Lena Pancek, a Bulgarian defector, is trying to find out where the body of her father, a revolutionary, is buried; rumor has it he was killed in Vanice. Even the elderly sisters who run the Pensione Sofia seem to have something to hide. The fun is in the many crossed paths, unexpected twists, and slow unravelling. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Jan 2, 2015 |
Set at the time of publication (late 1970s), Territorial Rights was written during the period that Spark lived in Italy. The novel contains all the classic Muriel Spark elements: strange characters, murder, blackmail, and a slightly bizarre, highly-charged atmosphere. It’s a novel about the complications that can occur with deception—because everyone in this book has something to hide. But the characters are almost archetypes, serving as vehicles for the larger story. It’s just as comical as some of her other books, and I’m really enjoying this novel. In this case, there’s a possible kidnapping and a 30-year-old mystery dating back to WWII.

Robert comes to the Pensione Sofia in order to escape a disastrous relationship he left back in England—but almost as soon as he arrives, he runs into his father, a retired headmaster who’s on vacation with another woman. Back in England, Robert’s mother hires the services of a detective agency whose acronym is GESS (guess get it?). Also present is Robert’s art-collector friend Curran and Robert’s girlfriend Lina, a Bulgarian refugee with an untenable grasp on the English language (“I don’t have no spare cash”). All of these characters link back to a mystery that happened thirty years ago at the Pension Sofia.

As I’ve said, the characters are kind of archetypes: the Bulgarian refugee (although she is charming), the (supposedly) cheating husband, the (supposedly) betrayed wife, the mysterious Mr. B at GESS, etc. The characters seem to have a very loose link to each other, and the end of the story didn’t tie together very well—in fact, it all pretty much unravels as everyone leaves Italy, thereby returning to the “territorial rights” of home. That said, though I did enjoy this book; I liked how the mysteries of both past and present intertwined with one another. A Muriel Spark novel wouldn’t be complete wouldn’t be complete without a hint of the bizarre; in this case it’s not only the multiple mysteries but also the city of Venice, an enigma unto itself. Probably one of my favorite Muriel Spark novels, but my all-time favorite is still The Girls of Slender Means. ( )
1 vote Kasthu | May 2, 2012 |
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The bureau clerk was telephoning to the Pensione Sofia while Robert Leaver watched the water-traffic at the ferry and the off-season visitors arriving in Venice.
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Book description
Venice, with its fading palazzos, its promise of sexual intrigue, and its courtless hiding places for secrets best kept hidden, is the setting for Muriel Spark's glittering new novel.

Robert arrives off-season at the Pensione Sofia to escape a complicated affair and to simplify his life. But in Venice nothing is what it seems - even the innocent Sofia has a body buried in the garden - and he's soon ensnared in a plot as intricate and ingenious as any Muriel Spark has devised. Drawn together unexpectedly by blackmail and an almost forgotten crime, a glorious rogues' gallery of characters scurry to protect themselves. But who is safe away from home, without territorial rights? In the Venice of Muriel Spark, appearances are not only deceiving but as fragile as houses built on water.

Territorial Rights is a novel of high comedy and acute observations on the way we live now. Shrewd, witty, fascinating as ever in her unique insights into human behaviour, this is Muriel Spark at her incomparable best.
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Triangulating love, old but not yet forgotten murders, and international spy craft mark this story.

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