The Driver’s Seat, by Muriel Spark, also made into a film starring Liz Taylor.  The book is funny, strange, suspenseful story of a seemingly unbalanced young English woman who goes on a sudden trip to Rome in search of “her type” of man.  Told with use of prolepsis (sudden, and brief flash forwards) that foreshadow the books grisly end, it is much a story of a madness as a crucifixion tale,  a complex  examination of the relationship between victim and victimizer.  Spark, who wrote a number of thrillers–and regarded herself as a Catholic allegorist–did not exactly please her fans with this tale.  The movie starring Liz Taylor has been panned as one of the worst performance of her career, during a period in which she appeared in a lot of films that disappointed her audience, but her performance in this film is pretty much spot on.  True, the film doesn’t have the same suspense as the novel, and their are nuances of paradox in the heroine’s quest–and the murder’s motivation–that don’t quite come off in the film, but it’ still worth pretty good: maybe more so if you’ve read the book.  This is one of Spark’s more interesting novels, and Taylor at her flossiest, sexiest, and enigmatic best.   DS

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jp manchette, fatale


“A few minutes later, Lorque parked the Mercedes behind the fish market on a dirty deserted street, because Aimee and he had not finished their discussion. Night had come. Cats ran among piles of empty shells. Inside the car, Lorque and Aimee talked and sat in silence by turns. At one point Lorque covered his face with both hands and it seemed Aimee had spoken sharply to him. At another moment he burst out laughing, but his laughter seemed to be bitter.
An old roman noir, newly-translated, -introduced, and re-printed (NYRB does such good stuff). Important here is the externality of description, which continues throughout; the reader as the eye of a camera, seldom zooming in. In this case held at arm’s length outside of the car, outside of the conversation. Also important, adding to the effect, are the pronouns, or rather the lack of them: Manchette isn’t using pronouns as subjects, just objects and markers of possession, and the effect is distancing, a little stilted, ideal to the narrative.

For a number of reasons – Aimee’s character and her persona, her outsider status, the very particular seventies-ness of attitude and social relations, the control and the brevity of the little book – this reminds me very strongly of Muriel Spark, especially The Driver’s Seat.

“In the darkness the young woman was not visible. Had she been visible, she would not have been beautiful to behold; or perhaps she would have been beautiful to behold, depending on one’s taste. She was utterly disheveled. Gummy with sweat, her hair stuck to her skull and fell in damp strands over her brow and the nape of her neck, like the hair of ladies who make love relentlessly for hours at a time. Streaks of coagulated blood varnished her elbows and one side of her head and a whole forearm. Her long knit-wool coat was soiled in places by dust, fuel oil, and fish guts. Her silk blouse was blood-stained, its ribbing slightly torn on one side. Her nose was smudged with dirt.”

NYRB 04.26.11 (orig. 1977)