Muriel’s Approach to Character

Muriel_Spark_1960I just read the first few pages of The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark (1975) and now I’m going to talk about Muriel’s approach to character and how that approach fits in with the environment that she has created for her characters.

First of all, there’s something slightly off-kilter in this story. There’s the feeling that all of the characters are living somewhere that’s not real (what is this Hothouse of which the title speaks?) Perhaps they are all mad. Or perhaps only one of them is mad and the rest are being imagined by that mad character. I mean; there’s the issue of the shadow. One of the characters is seeing that another character’s shadow is not in the position it should be according to where the sun is. Then there’s the absence of description of the characters. We get to see certain things around them, such as different things across the East River, and a pair of shoes, and a shoe salesman, but we don’t really get a good look at the characters themselves. They are all described tangentially as if the light is just glancing off them and then being caught by a description-detector. The resulting picture seems to come from what a person thinks about that person rather than what a person sees on and around that person. It’s strange and yet it’s like one of those mysteries that you want to get to the bottom of. The environment is a little more clearly defined, but not much. It’s like a dimly lit place where the characters are spending some time. Again, it’s like we’re getting the descriptions of the environment from the inside of a mad person’s mind. Disconcerting and intriguing and somewhat compelling. I hope that the whole story is not like this because it would be very frustrating. I hope that there is a pulling back of the curtain at some point.

So that’s the story of the first few pages. Would you start to read the book on the basis of my impressions?


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