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A Documented Life

Muriel Spark (1992 winner of the Ingersoll Foundation's T.S. Eliot Award) is a prolific writer with some 19 novels to her credit as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, criticism, and biography. Yet she was a surprisingly late starter. She was nearly 40 when her first novel, The Comforters, appeared, its theme provided by a period of personal crisis to which she has returned more than once in her later books. This memoir, apparently a first volume, brings her life story up to the moment when The Comforters was published and, as she writes, "Everything changed."

It is a story of fair beginnings and ghastly mistakes, of misdirection and driving ambition culminating as it might have seemed at the time in breakdown and collapse, but then transformed by a providential confluence of forces into a new life and a long, successful career—not that Mrs. Spark, never the most straightforward of narrators, tells it that way. Instead, as she writes in her introduction, she has been seriously irritated from time to time by fanciful, sometimes fantastic accounts of her life, and the purpose of her book is to correct them, settling some scores in the process. "I determined," she declares on her first page, "to write nothing that cannot be supported by documentary evidence or by eyewitnesses." And it turns out that she is the owner of an enormous personal archive enabling her to do just...

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