cover image Symposium


Muriel Spark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $18.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-395-51101-5

The peerless author of A Far Cry from Kensington brings to her latest work a comedian's split-second timing and a classical fascination with fatality. Ten stylish Londoners assemble for a dinner party: as Charterhouse, the all-too-well-named butler, offers each course, Spark serves up a mercilessly economical history of the two hosts, their various guests and the distinguished Hilda Damien, who is expected ``to look in'' after dinner. But early on Spark has privileged the reader with information that might be shocking were it not so shrewdly incorporated: ``But Hilda Damien will not come in after dinner. She is dying, now, as they speak.'' Polished and witty, the narrative cuts from the banquet to episodes in the recent past that link Hilda's death to her associations with the other characters. Especially scrutinized is odd young Margaret, Hilda's new daughter-in-law, whose proximity to the victims of apparently unrelated and bizarre murders engenders the suspicions of even her fond father. Spark's exquisitely balanced tone proves that the richest comedy is that which explores the darkest themes. (Dec.)