How we met: Recommended by Ms. Bharati Chowdhary and Ms. Sumana Bhattacharya
My Grade: B
I have heard so much about the Scottish writer Muriel Spark , her wit, her intelligence, that I thought I must be missing something huge. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, considered by many as her best work, is not the sort of novel that will change your life. Sans drama, sans a lot of coherent storyline, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie sails solely on the peculiarity of its very fascinating cast of characters. And yet, it is an oddly satisfying story. It doesn’t leave you particularly joyful or sad, just with a pensive smile, and for this subtle contentment, I recommend Miss Jean Brodie.
A primary school teacher, Miss Brodie takes under her wings six of her pupils, six 10 year old girls who are so distinct from one another that it is very incomprehensible why they should be selected into one single and exclusive set, till the narrator explains Miss Brodie’s criteria. From the ages of 10 to 16, the Brodie set grow up enjoying the special friendship of Miss Jean Brodie, and discover art, literature, sophistication, romance, and sex under her guidance and her determination to make them crème de la crème. She shares all her life experiences with them, rather than teach them their curriculum, much to the disapproval of the Principal. Miss Brodie’s downfall finally comes about through her betrayal by one of her own girls, who supply sufficient information to the Principal for her to be able to fire Miss Brodie. Miss. Brodie dies without ever finding out which one of her protégé had actually dealt the blow.
It took me quite some time to get used to the fact that there is no build up or sense of drama in Muriel Spark’s storytelling. She tells us, in a matter of fact way, without any suspense, of the impending death of one of the chief characters, of shocking, significant secrets, of the plot even before it has happened. It feels like she’s saying, ’It’s just a story, don’t get so excited people’. I’ve not come across too many stories that don’t use build-up, and I confess it was a very restful experience.
However, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, even with its pretence of being an ordinary story told casually, has a way of pricking your interest and curiosity, chiefly because of the fact that it has a very extraordinary protagonist. Does Miss Brodie give special treatment her set of girls because it gives her a sense of achievement as a teacher, or because it banishes her loneliness? Which of her suitors does she love? When she realizes she cannot have the man she loves, why does she egg on one of her pupils to have a love affair with him? What sort of vicarious joy would it give her for her secret lover to fuck her protégé? You wonder at Jean Brodie’s reasoning, and at the end of the book, you get the feeling that you sort of understand her.
Like a bowl of ungarnished, plain, custard, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has no power to excite or thrill, but all the same, is filling and satisfying, and leaves you with a quaint, pleasant taste in the mouth. I wonder if this is exactly what Muriel Spark is famous for.
Read it if:
You like subtle stories with dry wit and humor
You enjoy unusual methods of story telling
You like stories based in Scotland or about Scottish people
I wrote this review ages ago and have forgot to post it. Haven’t changed a word. Wonder if I’ve matured even a bit as a reviewer.