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
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