The Driver's Seat
Muriel Spark, 1970

An insane woman goes on vacation looking for someone to kill her.

Evaluation and commentary
Well, at least I read this one all the way through. It helped that it was 117 pages of widely spaced big print.

I read this book because it's on the syllabus of the class on the contemporary novel that I haven't been going to, hoping that it would give me a reason to go. The class I have been going to is the one on ancient history, and yesterday we covered Herodotus. The professor said that one of the key advances Herodotus contributed to the writing of history was the attempt to establish cause-and-effect relationships rather than just list events. Following the old formula that "the king died and then the queen died" isn't a narrative but "the king died and then the queen died of grief" is, Herodotus brought narrative to history. And it is this sort of cause-and-effect narrative that is largely missing from The Driver's Seat.

This novel is basically a recounting of the sequence of events leading up to the murder of the protagonist. Because she is insane, and her reactions have little or nothing to do with the stimuli that prompt them, it is basically 117 pages of "the king died and then the queen fried some mayonnaise in a pan because she's schizo." I have seen authors try with varying levels of success to make mentally ill characters understandable to the reader; Spark does the opposite and makes the main character opaque. Now, you can make a pretty good case that cause and effect is an overly tidy fiction and that ultimately much of what we do is fairly arbitrary, even if we are sane, which is all too rarely the case. So I can see how some might admire this experiment. But I didn't.

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