Wednesday 2 December 2009

Not to Disturb

Not To Disturb by Muriel Spark
I acquired (borrowed) this book from my mum's extensive collection. It was printed in 1974 and cost 25p. I love the idea that you could once buy a book for 25p. It is also nice to have a family who reads as you always have a source of new suggestions and books to borrow. It wasn't until I read the mini biography that I learned that she also wrote 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', which I have never read, but it is one of my most favourite films.

This book reminded me very much of 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (there is a review of this on my other STB site, but I am thinking of moving it all over here review can now be read on the 'More Reviews' page) but I mean just the theme, nothing else about they way it is written, in fact it would be hard to find two more different novels. In this tale it is the Baron and Baroness who are going to die. Everyone else in the house knows it but them. We barely get to meet them, they are peripheral to the tale, which focusses on their staff, and their excited anticipation of the event in question. It was a dark and stormy night, and as the rain comes down in torrents and the thunder crashes about the castle everyone from the butler to the pregnant maid is keeping vigil in the kitchen and making arrangements to sell their stories to the highest bidders. They don't seem to see anything strange in the way they are already discussing the Baron and Baroness in the past tense.

It is a book about characters: Lister the butler, who's only concern is carrying out his assigned duty of ensuring that they are not disturbed; Eleanor, I think, the housekeeper, who goes on about her carrot juice for much of the book; Heloise the maid, who cannot figure out who is the father of her unborn child; Clovis the exasperated chef; and through to minor players like Theo and Clara, the porter and his wife who live at the gatehouse. Then you have a rather confused Reverend, who ends up marrying Heloise to the mad brother in the attic in a somewhat surreal ceremony, Prince Eugene, a neighbour who pops round trying to get some of the staff to defect and come and work for him and Mr McGuire and Mr Samuel, there to make a record of the events.

So the Baron and Baroness Klopstock are locked in the library with Victor Passerat, the secretary, and a revolver (it feels like a scene from Cluedo). It has been decided that after a night of heated discussion they will reach an inevitable situation who's only resolution is the death of all three. The other people in the house wait the night out, in both eager anticipation and resigned acceptance of the events. In fact they mostly spend their time preoccupied with their own petty concerns and determinedly ensuring that nothing will disrupt the preordained outcome. It comes as no surprise when the door is forced open the next morning by the police that this is exactly the case, the Baroness and Victor dead at the hand of the Baron, who then shot himself after writing an efficient explanation for the situation. The staff all play their parts magnificently, looking suitably shocked and horrified and convincingly feigning absolute ignorance of what might have occurred.

"Clovis leads the way to the servants' quarters while the Inspector says to Lister, 'Didn't you hear anything during the night? No shots? No shouting or screaming?'
The wind encircles the house and the shutters bang. From the attic comes a loud clatter. 'No Inspector. It was a wild night,' says Lister"
Just so you know, Hadrian had loosened the shutters on purpose, to make sure they banged loudly.
Not sure I will suggest people rush out and read this one. A curious little book.

1 comment:

  1. I read Muriel Spark books in the early 70s but I had forgotten you could buy a book for 25p then. Mind you, I think Penguins originally began at 6d!


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