Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

You know what I love most about book blogs: that unknown people (who hopefully become less and less so over the time) make me discover great books. Before I got to this friendly community, I never heard of The Prime of Miss Brodie. Even the name of Muriel Spark was vague; I couldn’t even quite place the century. The book was on sale at W&H Smith, and I remembered the warm recommendations about it, so I just couldn’t resist (along with a novel by Ethan Canin, which I must praise as well).

I came to this novel very innocently, as you see. The “Brodie set” rang to my ears about the same as the “Brady bunch”, but with girls only. Somehow I expected something funny, and I got it, but a lot more than just funny.

I was confounded by the domineering, manipulating (but always so prim and unorthodox) Miss Brodie and the ensuing betrayal by one of the girls she liked most. Although the idea of fascism is in the air, given the time set, Miss Brodie is a very engaging character. Some may interpret the conclusion of the story as a condemnation of too much individualism (the Brodie set is taught not to join group activities) and that wanting to mould a group of people into an elite is evil, but I do take it in a more ambivalent way. The girls’ personalities that Miss Brodie contributed to create are indeed quite extraordinary, maybe not all “crème de la crème” (some lead ordinary lives), but well-rounded and independent personalities, not conformist fascists at all to me. After Miss Brodie’s downfall, and as we get an insight of the girls’ adult lives, her project looks slightly foolish in retrospect. The end of her self-declared prime makes her but a pathetic old maid who has lost her perceptiveness because she’s unable to guess who has betrayed her, and equally unable to understand that the man she expected to marry wasn’t all that into her.

I was blown away by Spark’s masterful style, with constant flashbacks and flash-forwards, which somehow remain fluent. I’m no religious person, so this theme throughout the novel was quite an interesting take (there was some snarky remarks about Catholicism and Edinburgh old maids), but remained obscure to me.

This one is a great candidate for a future re-read, because I didn’t explore every level of this deep, deceptively simple novella with the first read! And it is indeed a great candidate for my favourite books of 2009!

Here’s what Stefanie said about this book. And Dorothy. And Danielle. And Quillhill at The Slaves of Golconda. If you want me to list your review of this book, let me a comment!

6 thoughts on “Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

  1. So glad you liked the book! And nice review. It was my first Muriel Spark read as well. I’ve also read A Far Cry from Kensington which is very different and and a bit lighter reading but enjoyable nonetheless.

  2. I really like Muriel Spark and agree this is a novel you can easily reread and get much more out of it. She’s a very perceptive writer even if some of her characters are less so. The movie is pretty good as well. I’ve also read The Driver’s Seat, which is a later book–a dark and disturbing read!

  3. I’m very glad you enjoyed this as well. It was the first Spark I read, and I am in awe of its deceptive simplicity and actual complexity. I like to re-read it often.

    The Ballad of Peckham Rye is another of her books I’d highly recommend.

  4. Pingback: 2009 Favorites « Smithereens

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