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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Loitering with Intent

Muriel Spark

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To purchase Loitering with Intent

Title: Loitering with Intent
Author: Muriel Spark
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981
Length: 217 pages
Availability: Loitering with Intent - US
Loitering with Intent - UK
Loitering with Intent - Canada
Intentions suspectes - France
Vorsätzlich Herumlungern - Deutschland
Atteggiamento sospetto - Italia

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Our Assessment:

A- : amusing and nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 13/7/1981 Pamela Marsh
The Guardian A 20/4/2007 Jenny Turner
New Republic . 30/5/1981 William Abrahams
New Statesman . 22/5/1981 Nicholas Shrimpton
The NY Rev. of Books . 25/6/1981 Robert Towers
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/5/1981 B.G.Harrison
The New Yorker . 8/6/1981 John Updike
The Spectator . 22/5/1981 A.N.Wilson
Sunday Times . 24/5/1981 William Boyd
The Times A+ 21/5/1981 Peter Tinniswood
TLS . 22/5/1981 Jeremy Treglown

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t is lyrical, joyous, formally close to perfect." - Jenny Turner, The Guardian

  • "Loitering with Intent, robust and full-blooded, is a wise and mature work, and a brilliantly mischievous one. (...) I myself love these wheels within wheels, and can think of no other living writer who could set them spinning so merrily." - Barbara Grizzutti Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

  • "So, as well as exploring the characters of 20 or so hilarious and cruelly-conceived people, we are made to think about the very nature of perception itself, the illusions which enable us to claim knowledge of other minds. We can only see the world in our own way unless we see it through the eyes of great art. (...) Every word of Loitering with Intent, arcane, inconsequential and epigrammatic, could have been written by no one but Mrs Spark." - A.N.Wilson, The Spectator

  • "Loitering with Intent, like many of Muriel Spark's novels, is about the art of fiction itself. To this extent it's an important contribution to an understanding of her work and thought; a pity that it's executed in a convoluted and over-literary way." - William Boyd, Sunday Times

  • "It has exuberant freshness. It is constantly inventive. It has wit and grace. It is intelligent. It shimmers with love. It is short." - Peter Tinniswood, The Times

  • "It goes without saying that Loitering with Intent is beautifully written. It is also exciting, at times, and often very funny. Muriel Spark's dry fluency used to be compared with Ivy Compton-Burnett's; now it seems to resemble Beckett's (.....) Yet, for all this, the new work is not as intriguing or as satisfying as most of Muriel Spark's novels." - Jeremy Treglown, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Loitering with Intent is the story of a struggling but carefree would-be author, Fleur Talbot. She recounts her recent unusual adventures: the twin-track story of the novel she has been working on for years, Warrender Chase, and her brief career as secretary to the short-lived Autobiographical Association.
       Fleur is consumed by her work on the novel, but she must also make ends meet. It is 1949 Britain, "modern times" to Fleur, and even if these are also still difficult times, with food still being rationed, she gives a sense that opportunity is all about. When Fleur needs a job she winds up in the employ of Sir Quentin Oliver and his Autobiographical Association: at least it offers the "promise of a totally new experience".
       Fleur gets more than she bargained for, but she takes it all in stride. The Autobiographical Association has ten members when Fleur begins her work there. It is a group of Sir Quentin's "Very important friends, V.I.P.s." They want to create a record of their remarkable lives, to place "the facts on record for posterity", and so they are penning their memoirs. But, because of English libel laws, they must do so in secret, and they plan to only release the material some seventy years hence, when all the people mentioned are sure to be dead.
       The "extraordinary" lives of the members of the group prove to be a bit less than that, but part of Fleur's job is to spruce up the memoirs. She doesn't merely fix up style and grammar either; she's willing to spice up things and embellish the record. As she -- and the others -- find, fact and fiction intermingle more easily than one might have thought (or wanted).
       Working there for a while, Fleur finds that:

Sir Quentin was conforming more and more to the character of my Warrender Chase; it was amazing, I could have invented him, I could have invented all of them -- the lot.
       But Loitering with Intent is more than your usual book-within-a-book or meditation on authorial power. Fact indeed does affect fiction, but in a wholly unexpected way.
       Fleur's book is accepted for publication, but then sinister things begin to happen. Fleur finds that:
(...) not only was Sir Quentin exerting his influence to suppress my Warrender Chase, but he was using, stealing my myth. Without a mythology, a novel is nothing.
       All of a sudden the publisher no longer wants to publish, and all traces of the book start to disappear. Fleur recognizes what is happening, and manages to turn the tables on Sir Quentin and save the day (or at least the novel). Sir Quentin's fall, into the abyss of Warrender Chase is, however, unstoppable, and fact follows fiction faithfully to the end.

       Spark's story sparkles throughout. There is some adventure, some mystery, and some serious subjects are broached as well -- but it is all done in good jolly fun. Loitering with Intent is filled with wicked humour, written in crisp sentences. It is a pleasure to read: here is someone who has mastered the craft, who knows how to write (as so few authors do nowadays).
       Nothing is too serious, nothing is too frivolous. And there's a good yarn here, too. Several, in fact. Fleur says: "I do dearly love a turn of events", and Spark keeps things all awhirl throughout.
       It is not merely the story, and Fleur's pitch-perfect tone, that make the novel a success. The details and asides are all very well done as well. The characters, from Sir Quentin's strategically incontinent mother to the men in Fleur's life to each of the smaller characters are all nicely drawn and beautifully used. There is no excess here at all. Things speed along, in the rough and tumble life of that time (and that period in Fleur's life), but nothing is rushed either.

       Loitering with Intent is an entertainment. Nothing grand or weighty. But it is a very fine entertainment. Recommended.

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Loitering with Intent: Reviews: 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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