by Muriel Spark
This is only the second book I have read by Muriel Spark, the first being the rather lightweight The Abbess of Crewe. Well, perhaps I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie when I was a teenager – I’m a bit hazy about that. This novel certainly has more about it than that did The Abbess.
The story: a young Scot named Dougal Douglas (alter ego: Douglas Dougal) moves to Peckham and takes a white-collar job in a factory. He appears to have no relevant experience, other than an arts degree. He is given the freedom to define his own role, which appears to be a mixture of what would today be called HR, process engineering and marketing. He talks a lot about psychology, and wins over his management and the people he encounters with his apparent understanding of human nature.
The narrative develops through his encounters with his colleagues and the girls and men who work in the factory. He spends more time out and about than in his office. We learn at the very start of the book that he has left Peckham, leaving a trail of human devastation behind him. Douglas is not a likeable person – more than this, he is depicted, and perhaps believes himself to be, some kind of devil – but the way he behaves and the behaviour of others towards him are beautifully observed and described with a black humour.
This book would encourage me to read more by Spark, whereas The Abbess of Crewe left me cold.