The Comforters by Muriel Spark

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Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. Caroline has an unusual problem – she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters also seem deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread – has his elderly grandmother hidden them there? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England’s leading Satanist.


I got this book with my interest sparked by one of my favorites BookTuber, Mementomori Video.
This is my first Muriel Spark and I was kind of curious to see what kind of writing style she has and what this book is about. Most importantly, if I would like this book or not.

To be honest, I still haven’t been able to figure out what exactly was going on in this book.

Let me put it this way – this is a peculiar, yet riveting read. 

Content-wise, I’m still not 100% sure what this book is about. I find it incredibly difficult to even summarize the story. There are way too many things going on and it felt all the plots and bits jumbling up and jumping all over the place, it felt a messy, chaotic read. You may find you’re not sure in what direction the story is going – I felt the same way, too.
However, what I find surprising is that they are all interconnected in a very intricate, meticulous way.  Every single piece of a puzzle thrown out in the story does fall into place beautifully later in the story, but overall, it kind of exudes a mayhem-like vibe.
The more I think about it, the less it feels like a story with one solid plot,too. It feels more like a collage of the characters’ lives, where each character’s thoughts and actions are narrated in ‘Caroline did this,’ ‘Laurence felt this,’ kind of manner.
Weird as it may sound, but that’s how I felt about this story.

My overall feels toward this book may also stem from the author closing the book with a loose end rather than ending with a closure.
There’s no explicit closure particularly to the relationship between Caroline and Laurence, so I still have a lot of unanswered questions hanging in the air – it’s kind of akin to indigestion.

In spite of that, and surprisingly enough, I enjoyed it a ton.

I remember telling you that I am a plot-driven reader and I need a solid, explicit and easy-to-follow plot. I don’t do well at an abstract writing style.
That being said though, I found myself really enjoy reading this, what some may seem as a plot-less novel. I woke up at 6 a.m. today and kept reading the rest of the book almost non-stop. I literally buzzed through the book, it was such a ride.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous and somewhat hypnotic; the paragraphs that describe the detached narrations of Caroline’s thoughts and actions preceded by the tapping sound of a typewriter are just stunning, outstandingly fascinating.
As a reader, you’ll read EXACTLY THE SAME SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH WHAT YOU’VE JUST READ preceded by the tapping sound of a typewriter and it also comes with THE CHANTING.

Like this:

      She was absorbed by the pressing need to get out of her flat at the earliest possible moment, and as she searched among her clothes she did not even notice, with her customary habit of self-observation, that she had thrown her night-things together anyhow. This frenzied packing operation and the deliberate care she had taken, in spite of her rage, to fold and fit her possessions into place at St Philumena’s less than a day ago failed to register.
      Tap-tick-tap. she did not even notice, with her customary habit of self-observation, that she had thrown her night-things together anyhow. This frenzied packing operation and the deliberate care she had taken, in spite of her rage, to fold and fit her possessions into place at St Philumena’s less than a day ago failed to register. Tap.

Such descriptions literally made my skin crawl; I could felt the full-on creepiness crawl into my head just by reading such sentences.  Man, was it glorious!

The characters are all interesting, too. They are all in a way wrecked and delusional, but l really enjoyed Laurence’s  super-observant nature and the Baron’s phony, superficial  geniality. And don’t forget the sprightly Louisa Jepp – a 76 year-old Laurence’s grandmother who is allegedly involved in diamond smuggling;  an old lady smuggling a diamond??? Come on, what a plot!
It felt that the author looked at all the characters through sarcastic and cynical glasses and drawn them with a healthy dose of humor and a slight waft of sarcasm.
They are all well-fleshed out and I had so much fun to read about them.

I also enjoyed reading the emotional estrangement between Laurence and Caroline.
Since Caroline started hearing the tapping of typewriter in her head, Caroline tries to outwit the invisible phantom by doing the opposite of what the narrator told her, and Laurence starts to feel Caroline drifts apart from him.
Such detailed characterizations and the well-crafted character dynamics are what I found make this book peculiar at a glance yet captivating and riveting.

The bottom line is, as I previously mentioned, I still don’t know whether I got this story right; I think there are still a lot to take in. I definitely need to come back to better grasp the story line.
None the less, I really enjoyed this book. This book definitely won’t be my last Muriel Spark. I’d love to try some more of her books.

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