I mentioned that I hope this year to have a Virago Modern Classic or Persephone on the go and on my night stand this year. Since I have finished my first Persephone of the year (and hope to write about it soon), it is time to select a VMC and naturally I need to mark Muriel Spark's Centennial Birthday. As I have a small handful of those lovely Virago reissues on my TBR pile, I handily grabbed what was on top and have decided to start with her 1968 Booker shortlist novel, The Public Image.
I've read a few of her really well-known novels and maybe one or two lesser known works (she was really prolific, wasn't she?!), but it has been ages since I picked up any of her books. I forgot what a wonderful prose stylist she was. I've only barely started this short novel, but already I am drawn in by the characters, who seem pretty flawed but all the more interesting for it.
The story is set in Italy, though it seems to move around in time a bit and reaches back to English soil. Annabel is a famous actress, though I think it is less her abilities and more her fifteen minutes of fame that the story is about, but we'll see. Her husband is "handsome and devoted" but is not approving of her vapid existence--she is worried mostly about keeping up appearances and grooming her public image. So, social satire? Will Spark skewer Ms. Christopher and her motivations? I shall soon find out.
Over just the span of a couple of pages let's see how Annabel develops:
"Off the screen Annabel Christopher looked a puny little thing, as in fact she had looked on screen until fairly recently. To those who had not first seen her in the new new films, or publicity pictures, she still looked puny, an English girl from Wakefield, with a peaky face and mousey hair."
Three years later:
"Annabel was now in demand for small parts in films, always the same type: she was called for wherever a little slip of a thing was needed . . ."
By a decade later an Italian director had transformed her and she became known by one of her roles as 'English Lady-Tiger'.
"But in those earlier times when she began to be in demand in English films, she had no means of knowing that she was, in fact, stupid, for, after all, it is the deep core of stupidity that it thrives on the absence of a looking-glass."
Now that sets a tone, doesn't it? It will be interesting to see how she fares and how she comes out from it all in the end. Will happiness and success be hers? I wonder.