Muriel Spark, . . New Directions, $19.95 (398pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1494-0

Coming just four years after the cloth edition of Open to the Public: New and Collected Stories, which introduced readers to 10 new Spark tales, this collection tacks on four slight additions and brings the total of Spark's stories to 41. The new entries are brief variations on familiar Stark themes: social standing is comically depicted in "The Snobs," the ownership of family history is probed through photographs in "A Hundred and Eleven Years Without a Chauffeur" and benign ghostly experiences account for the remaining two stories. Taken together, they're not a major inducement for owners of the 1997 collection to indulge again so soon. Those who know Spark mainly from her novels, however (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Loitering with Intent), will be pleased to snap up this treasure trove, markedly best for the many of her earlier stories that combine elements that other writers wouldn't dare bring together. Chance encounters between strangers spiral into unexpected plots (as when a young woman meets a soldier on a train in "The House of the Famous Poet"), and Spark's narrators (including the wry, level-headed ghost of "The Portobello Road") serve as astute observers of race, class and society, particularly in the stories set in colonial South Africa. There are times when the whimsy goes screwball, and briefer pieces stemming from a word or phrase peter out, but overall Spark's marvelous control of ambiguities and language continues to dazzle. (Nov. 29)

Forecast:Following so soon on the heels of Open to the Public, this volume may not receive much review coverage, but as the first paperback collected edition since 1985, it should sell well, particularly to students and first-time Spark readers.