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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Aiding and Abetting

by
Muriel Spark


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Aiding and Abetting



Title: Aiding and Abetting
Author: Muriel Spark
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 182 pages
Availability: Aiding and Abetting - US
Aiding and Abetting - UK
Aiding and Abetting - Canada
Complices et comparses - France
Frau Dr. Wolfs Methode - Deutschland
Il settimo Conte di Lucan - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing and fairly entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Atlantic Monthly B+ 2/2001 Thomas Mallon
Christian Science Monitor . 15/2/2001 Ron Charles
Daily Telegraph C 28/8/2000 Francis King
The Economist C 9/9/2000 .
The Guardian A- 26/8/2000 Alex Clark
The Independent A 2/9/2000 Bryan Cheyette
London Rev. of Books . 7/9/2000 James Wood
The LA Times . 25/2/2001 S.S. Reynolds
Neue Zürcher Zeitung A+ 25/9/2001 Thomas David
New Statesman . 11/9/2000 A.S.Byatt
New Statesman A 1/10/2001 Lisa Allardice
The New Yorker A 12/2/2001 John Updike
The NY Rev. of Books . 26/4/2001 Andrew O'Hagan
The NY Times A- 20/2/2001 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. B 11/3/2001 Richard Eder
The Observer B- 3/9/2000 Adam Mars-Jones
San Francisco Chronicle A 18/2/2001 Pam Rosenthal
Time . 12/3/2001 Paul Gray
The Times A- 30/8/2000 Magnus Linklater
TLS . 1/9/2000 Patricia Craig
The Village Voice A- 20/3/2001 Charles McNulty
The Washington Post B+ 11/2/2001 Michael Dirda


  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, though a majority enjoyed it. But some very disappointed too.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Spark eventually manages to bring the plot lines back together, but the unity is less than complete. And yet cleverness and high style remain abundant here (...), and the book's ending employs a particularly Waugh-like twist that is no less satisfying for being familiar." - Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly

  • "With a keen ear for moral ambiguity, Spark pursues this triangle of con artists through the tunnel of their own vanity. It's kiln-dried wit that never cracks a smile and dares you to laugh. As always, she's breathtakingly deft with the anxieties of well-bred people, people who know how to dress, where to eat, and how to commit the most heinous cruelty." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

  • "In the case of this wispy novel, it may be that Muriel Spark welcomed yet another challenge to her gift for transforming the most unpromising material into extraordinary works of art. Unfortunately, however, that challenge has for once proved too much for her. (...) Although this book contains some passages of inspired preposterousness worthy of Oscar Wilde or Joe Orton, reading it is too much like a bumpy ride in a vintage Rolls Royce repeatedly halted by punctures or engine failure." - Francis King, Daily Telegraph

  • "The symbolism is imaginatively used if rather too thickly smeared on the page. The problem is, what does all the blood mean ? Ms Spark, now in her 80s, is famous for spare books that combine macabre subjects, a witty voice and moral import. Aiding and Abetting is such a spare novel, but it is confused and ultimately disappointing." - The Economist

  • "Spark's economical, elliptical prose is alive with understated comedy (.....) (Q)uibbles should not detract from the enjoyment of this exceptionally intelligent book. It is hard to think of another writer who could devise such a brashly absurd plot and then execute it with both flair and gravity." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "(I)n many ways a subtle summation of her work. (...) What stops Aiding and Abetting from becoming overly moralistic is the exuberance of its story-line -- which encompasses Central Africa and the Scottish Highlands as well as London and Paris -- along with an engaging playfulness." - Bryan Cheyette, The Independent

  • "Awash in quirk, Aiding and Abetting has the feel of pure lark." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Frau Dr. Wolfs Methode ist Muriel Sparks hinreissende Komödie der Irrungen." - Thomas David, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The brief and apparently exiguous plot of Aiding and Abetting moves in an elegant and superficially heartless counterpoint. (...) The novel, on one level so simple and slight, is full of wicked tricks and near-blasphemous religious jokes." - A.S.Byatt, New Statesman

  • "However absurd the story, Spark remains one of our sharpest novelists." - Lisa Allardice, New Statesman

  • "Upon this implausible -- indeed, preposterous -- premise, Muriel Spark builds a strangely gripping and gnomically illuminating short novel (.....) (O)ne of the best of her sui-generis novels." - John Updike, The New Yorker

  • "Spark has always been a good sentence-writer: each one offers something starched and clerical, particular and clear, and woven together, in each novel, her sentences make a tapestry of prim felicities. Aiding and Abetting is a book in which people speak clearly about nothing being clear: nobody knows what is really happening, and that includes the reader." - Andrew O'Hagan, The New York Review of Books

  • "As in so many of her earlier novels, Ms. Spark orchestrates her characters' fates with icy aplomb, pulling their marionette strings as unashamedly as they try to pull one another's. (...) The abrupt ending is a little too ironic, however, a little too contrived to ever feel completely believable or fitting -- the one flaw in this otherwise elegant and chilling little novel." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "If Aiding and Abetting is a sporadic exercise of Spark's qualities, the qualities are there." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "As long as our access to the Lucan story comes only through Wolf's perceptions, Aiding and Abetting exerts a faint but definite spell. But then Spark lets her structure unravel two-thirds of the way through: her heroine becomes little more than an onlooker, and the Lucan material begins to seem relatively thin." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

  • "Meanwhile, the novel's characters -- the subtle and the clueless alike -- chase each other across national boundaries and through Spark's dazzling narrative time shifts and beguiling alternations of point of view. It all works out, after a fashion, in 166 deceptively quick, spare-seeming pages. Or does it? Aiding and Abetting is a marvelously intricate entertainment." - Pam Rosenthal, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Given such unsavory protagonists, Aiding and Abetting doesn't generate an abundance of rooting interest in its outcome. But Spark, 83, has lost none of her skill and verve in portraying flamboyantly wicked people behaving according to "a morality devoid of ethics or civil law." " - Paul Gray, Time

  • "In the end the elusiveness becomes addictive, and it is almost a disappointment when Dame Muriel rather briskly wraps up the plot (.....) What lingers in the mind are some mordant observations on class and character, and a series of almost casually witty remarks (.....) The prose is sparse, its sentences crisp to the point of desiccation, and some of the characters are sketched in almost absent-mindedly." - Magnus Linklater, The Times

  • "Spark's brusque high style, however, would rather motor through a dozen surreal twists than pause once to explain. Make that two dozen. (...) Not that the haywire plot isn't impressively worked out (especially given how much the author tries to stuff into her novella-sized nutshell); it's just that the ultimate effect is more one of legerdemain than vision. But when aided and abetted by the hypnotic presence of Dr. Wolf, the still-conjuring Spark can convince us of almost anything." - Charles McNulty, The Village Voice

  • "Despite its subject matter, then, this is hardly a thriller or high-brow mystery, but rather a mannered jeu d'esprit, marked by that spareness, that stripped down simplicity so often characteristic of works by older artists." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Aiding and Abetting is "based on hypothesis": Spark imagines what might have become of the infamous seventh Earl of Lucan, who apparently murdered his children's nanny (in a botched attempt to kill his wife) in 1974 and then disappeared.
       The novel is set in the present, a quarter of a century after Lord Lucan fled. It begins in Paris, where an Englishman has come to consult Dr. Hildegard Wolf. "What I have to tell you is an English story", he tells her. His story is that he claims to be Lord Lucan. The problem with his story is that Dr. Wolf already has a patient claiming to be Lord Lucan.
       Dr. Wolf has an unusual therapeutic method. For the first few sessions she does not want to hear from the patients, but rather talks to them about herself. One of the problems with this method is that Dr. Wolf is also less than forthright, because she is also running from her past. Her real name is Beate Pappenheim, and when she was younger she had passed herself off as "the stigmatic of Munich", raking in quite a bit of money before she was finally exposed as a fraud.
       The two Lucans -- one calling himself Lucky Lucan, the other Robert Walker -- are complicated patients. Not only because Dr. Wolf does not know which of them might be telling the truth, but because they know who she is (or rather: was).
       A cat and mouse game ensues, with numerous cats and mice. There are others pursuing Lord Lucan as well, and Lucan, in need of funds, must also venture forth into more exposed areas to pick up money from those who continue to be willing to aid and abet him.
       So much is known about the case and the Earl that, as one character says: "A fake Lucan might be entirely convincing." Indeed. The fakes in this book are often very convincing.
       Spark revisits old times as well, returning again and again to the fateful evening in 1974, and the choices people made then. Friends helped Lucan. They were "faithful in a class-conscious sense", a sense that is no longer as strong.
       Dr. Wolf's stigmatic past is also revisited. In both her case and Lucan's there is lots of blood. Blood dominates. Lucan was particularly astonished at how much blood there was when he killed the nanny. As Dr. Wolf knows: "Once it gets going, there's no stopping blood", and it continues to course through the novel.
       Spark brings the Lucan story to a tidy (though, of course, bloody) end, with Dr. Wolf getting off much better. It is an entertaining romp, from Lucan's trail, the scent often hot with his favourite food (which Spark uses perhaps a tad too often), to Dr. Wolf's own detective work to Lucan's various old aiders and abetters.
       It is a pleasure to read Spark: she writes very well, her crisp, simple, but very sharp style a welcome antidote to much of the over-fancy writing one finds nowadays. The story is an entertaining one, the presentation solid. The tale does meander a bit more than it should: like Lucan it doesn't seem to know quite where it should (or can) go. It is not as tight a narrative as one might wish for -- but it is still an enjoyable read.

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Links:

Aiding and Abetting: Reviews: Lord Lucan: Muriel Spark: Other books by Muriel Spark under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Muriel Spark lived 1918 to 2006.

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© 2001-2014 the complete review

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