miss-jb.jpgWhen Muriel Spark died last year I decided that I would read all of her novels and short stories as a tribute of sorts to an author that had given me a huge amount of pleasure since I was a teenager. I first read her in my final year at school (1978 or 1979, I can’t remember which term exactly) as part of studying the Scottish novel, and was hooked at once. It was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the story of school life in 1930s Edinburgh, far removed from the west of Scotland in the seventies, was fascinating but in some ways not so different. I can’t remember my school motto, but loved the Marcia Blaine Academy’s “O where shall I find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies”, and I did have a languages teacher who referred to us as the creme de la creme. To add a bit of glamour, one of the girls in my class was an extra in the Scottish TV series starring Geraldine McEwan, although I still see and hear Maggie Smith when I think of Miss Brodie.

My re-reading faltered after the first five novels, but recently I decided to look at the chronological list again and saw that Jean Brodie was next. I didn’t quite read it in a sitting this time as I had in previous years, but it lost none of its power on South West Trains; give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life seems to refer to the author as much as her character. The issues of influence and betrayal against the backdrop of the pre-war period had a real impact on me as a sixteen year old and I have always classed this as one of my absolute favourites, to be taken out often and savoured. Most of her novels are short but perfectly formed, and I would recommend her to anyone who loves good writing.

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