This Muriel lacks Spark

A long-awaited life of a ma­jor Bri­tish writer who was un­easy about her Jewish ori­gins fails to con­vey her joy­ful­ness

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

claimed, and he had the ev­i­dence to prove it. This drove her to parox­ysms of ir­ra­tional anger.

Guilt no doubt played a part, but she had al­ways had a hor­ror of be­ing “taken over”, had al­ways been quick to ac­cuse friends, lovers, pub­lish­ers and agents of fal­si­fy­ing the facts and want­ing to get a piece of her.

Some of this was clearly the prod­uct of deep in­se­cu­rity, some of the laud­able de­sire to make her way as a sin­gle woman and carve out a space to do what was the most im­por­tant thing in her life, write.

There was some­thing un­pleas­ant about the way the pa­pers picked up on this quar­rel and the way Catholics, Scots and Jews all tried to claim her. Un­pleas­ant and rem­i­nis­cent of her nov­els, par­tic­u­larly Ter­ri­to­rial Rights, where a man loved by two women is hacked in half by them af­ter his death, since they can­not agree who should “own” the corpse.

Martin Stan­nard has writ­ten an odd bi­og­ra­phy. He has worked hard to pro­duce a re­li­able and ac­cu­rate ac­count of the life, and he of­ten writes well, but his touch is as un­cer­tain when he deals with things Jewish (he keeps talk­ing of “lapsed Jews”) as when he deals with lit­er­ary mat­ters (when in doubt he throws in the un­help­ful word “post­mod­ern”).

Above all, he is never able to con­vey the ex­hil­a­ra­tion which many ob­vi­ously felt in her com­pany, and which all her books ex­ude, the sense that life is a won­der­ful gift which we must em­brace whole­heart­edly, no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult it is.

“I go on my way re­joic­ing”, the heroine of her au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel, Loi­ter­ing With In­tent, con­cludes. There is pre­cious lit­tle re­joic­ing in this bi­og­ra­phy. For that, re­turn to the nov­els. Gabriel Josipovici’s lat­est book, ‘Af­ter & Mak­ing Mis­takes’, is pub­lished by Car­canet

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