cover image Reality and Dreams

Reality and Dreams

Muriel Spark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $22 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-395-83811-2

The important thing about a new Spark novel is hardly ever the plot or even the characters, but rather that inimitable authorial tone: crisp, assured, utterly unsentimental but always full of delicious surprises. Her hero in the present refreshingly slim volume is Tom, an elderly British film director who, as the story opens, is in hospital, having fallen off a crane during the filming of his latest movie. After various title changes and corporate shenanigans while he is hors de combat, the film is eventually resumed-as is his life with his charming, wealthy and all-forgiving wife, Claire, their ungainly and rather sinister daughter, Marigold, and Cora, his beautiful daughter by an earlier marriage. All of them are endlessly unfaithful, but their lives are shadowed far more by constant ""redundancies,"" in the hideous English euphemism for lost jobs, than by any sense of marital or romantic betrayal. Marigold finds it necessary to disappear to work on her secret life, and the mystery of her vanishing gives the book its principal plot line-and one that is resolved rather neatly by another accident with a movie crane at its conclusion. The spirit of the book is sprightly and faintly acidic, rather as if a bunch of 18th-century French courtiers were at frolic in contemporary London. And needless to say, there are countless divine Spark moments (""Not only am I old enough to be your father, I am your father. You should listen to me""). (Apr.)