The Finishing School'
When Muriel Spark passed away it was noted that she had been working up until the day she died. 'The Finishing School' was her last completed novel, published in 2004 when she was 86 years old. By rights the book should show signs of authorial weariness Ã¢Â€Â“ but though it may be short at around 150 pages, it's still an extremely well-crafted novel. The book starts with a creative writing class: "'You begin' he said 'by setting your scene'." With this cheeky nod in the direction of the reader, Spark makes it clear from the start that she is exploring the nature of fiction, just as she did in her first novel, 'The Comforters', where the main character knows she is a character in a novel. The Finishing School is set in a school with a small group of favoured pupils Ã¢Â€Â“ Spark has dealt with that subject before too Ã¢Â€Â“ but before long the focus shifts to the rivalry between the creative writing teacher Rowland, and his pupil Chris who, apparently, has immense writing talent. Apparently, but not definitely, because Spark keeps readers in the dark, as she tended to do throughout her career. The book becomes darker as it goes on too, but it manages to end in affirmation. In fact it ends with a very 21st century 'affirmation ceremony' with which Spark shows us that she never lost her capacity to wrong foot readers, and that she's not so old fashioned. Not Spark's best novel, but an extremely entertaining and readable one. [Keir Hind]
Published by Penguin. Out Now. Cover Price Ã‚Â£8.99.