Dame Muriel Spark delivers a delightfully alarming novel, full of high society and low cunning. One October evening five posh London couples gather for a dinner party, enjoying "the pheasant (flambe in cognac as it is)" and waiting for the imminent arrival of the late-coming guest Hilda Damien, who has been unavoidably detained due to the fact that she is being murdered at this very momentSymposium was applauded by Time magazine for the "sinister elegance" of Muriel Spark's ...
Dame Muriel Spark delivers a delightfully alarming novel, full of high society and low cunning.
One October evening five posh London couples gather for a dinner party, enjoying "the pheasant (flambe in cognac as it is)" and waiting for the imminent arrival of the late-coming guest Hilda Damien, who has been unavoidably detained due to the fact that she is being murdered at this very momentSymposium was applauded by Time magazine for the "sinister elegance" of Muriel Spark's "medium of light but lethal comedy." Mixed in are a Monet, a mad uncle, some unconventional nuns, and a burglary ring run by a rent-a-butler. Symposium stars a perfectly evil young woman (a classic sweet-faced hair-raising Sparkian horror) who has married rich Hilda's son by hook or by crook, hooking him at the fruit counter of Harrod's. There is also spiritual conversationand the Bordeaux is superb. "The prevailing mood is urbane: the wine is poured, the talk continues, and all the time the ice on which the protagonists' world rests is being thinned from beneath, by boiling emotions and ugly motives .No living writer handles the tension between formality of expression and subversiveness of thought more elegantly." (The Independent on Sunday).
The peerless author of A Far Cry from Kensington brings to her latest work a comedian's split-second timing and a classical fascination with fatality. Ten stylish Londoners assemble for a dinner party: as Charterhouse, the all-too-well-named butler, offers each course, Spark serves up a mercilessly economical history of the two hosts, their various guests and the distinguished Hilda Damien, who is expected ``to look in'' after dinner. But early on Spark has privileged the reader with information that might be shocking were it not so shrewdly incorporated: ``But Hilda Damien will not come in after dinner. She is dying, now, as they speak.'' Polished and witty, the narrative cuts from the banquet to episodes in the recent past that link Hilda's death to her associations with the other characters. Especially scrutinized is odd young Margaret, Hilda's new daughter-in-law, whose proximity to the victims of apparently unrelated and bizarre murders engenders the suspicions of even her fond father. Spark's exquisitely balanced tone proves that the richest comedy is that which explores the darkest themes. (Dec.)
Despite the title, no meeting of minds takes place in Spark's astringent new novel. There is, however, a smart London dinner party at which the threads of her narrative simultaneously come together and unravel. Guests of honor are Hilda's son William and his louche bride Margaret, but Hilda herself, a rich widow with doubts about her new daughter-in-law, is inexplicably absent. When the police finally arrive with grim news, Margaret is aghast--``It shouldn't have been till Sunday!''--and the help are very anxious to leave. Nothing is what it seems in Spark's world, and her treatment is so fast and furious that readers new to her work may not know what hit them. A delight, but mainly for fans. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/90.-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Ind.
The writer of “some of the best sentences in English” (The New Yorker), Muriel Spark (1918–2006) was the author of dozens of novels including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, and The Driver’s Seat. She became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.