The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (1970)

Not familiar with the 1974 film adaptation of Muriel Spark’s novella The Driver’s Seat, starring Elizabeth Taylor, I shouldn’t really comment on how it came across on screen, but I can’t help but point out such glowing critiques as: “Fans of Taylor may like this, but they would have to be a group with amazingly low standards.” Or maybe even Dennis Schwartz’s declaration that the film is a “must see for… those who love bad movies.” Thankfully, Spark’s novella offers a lot more.

The Driver’s Seat is a taut psychological thriller that deals with familiar topics: detachment and isolation. Lise, our protagonist, has worked in the same mind-numbing office job for 16 years. The reader quickly learns that she is dysfunctional, hysterical, and has queer, off-kilter reactions to normal, everyday situations. She dresses in gaudy, garish clothing and is irrationally angry with the saleswoman in the opening pages – our first indication that something is amiss.

Taking a holiday practically enforced by her superiors at work, Lise travels to an unknown country, dressed in her lurid clothing, ready for an adventure – or perhaps a misadventure. It soon transpires that this dark, irregular personality must be unlocked and explained in the reader’s own mind, as Lise becomes involved in a series of seemingly innocuous, but decidedly weird interactions, both in the airport and during the flight.

At just over a hundred pages, there is no time to catch breath. Granted, there is no searing, action-packed plot, but a sense of smouldering dread seeps through the pages; the anticipation leaves you suffocated. Perhaps anticipation is the wrong word, considering the novella’s ‘reveal’ as such is far from concealed: we are told barely a quarter of the way through the text what will happen to Lise, and it is the journey there that is the point. Yet still there remains a sense of anxiousness, of something teetering on the edge.

Spark’s cast is marvellous: from Bill, flirting as he sits next to our protagonist on the plane, hilariously discussing Ying and Yang, and advantages of of macrobiotic eating – the rules of which say you must have at least one orgasm per day, incidentally; to octogenarian Mrs Friedke, who joins Lise on her shopping excursions, unlike the reader entirely oblivious to her real intentions. Instead, they travel together on a search for “Lise’s man”, the elderly woman unaware of this elusive character’s real purpose.

As the novella rattles to its sublime dénouement  – in which the true extent of Spark’s talent is on display – the reader has known from early on that this book is far from your normal “whodunnit?” Indeed, Spark’s insistence that it is a whydunnit? rings apt throughout. Some may be distracted by the lack of explanation, perhaps, but Spark let’s the story tell itself, leaving the reader to make their own conclusions, and it works.

The Driver’s Seat is a brutal dissection of female victimization, flipped fantastically on its head.

★★★★☆

Advertisements

Wilfried Zaha: An Eagle flies home to the nest

As much as Deadline Day is built up and hyped to the rafters by media outlets and footballs fans alike, the surprises are in fact in short supply. Wilfried Zaha returning to Crystal Palace on a permanent transfer after a disappointing two years at Manchester United was not one of them. His move to the Eagles for £3m, just a fraction of the £20m United paid for him in January 2013, however, says it all.

On the surface, it would appear that Zaha was never given a chance at Old Trafford; indeed, he only made two appearances for the club and spent the vast majority of his time out on loan at Palace and Cardiff City. It is a situation that looks strange when you see Zaha play: a 22-year-old winger with bags of pace and plenty of skill to boot. So why was he not given more chance to excel for the Red Devils?

Sadly, it seems a case of the player’s own attitude holding him back from fulfilling his potential. For whatever reason, Zaha was never fully comfortable at United, whether it was in the final days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, or David Moyes’ fateful season in charge. Constant reports surfaced of his lack of maturity or drive in training; famously, he was the only player in the entire squad that chose not to attend a voluntary training session under Louis Van Gaal. Not the best way to endear yourself to your new manager.

It is indicative of how bad the relationship between Zaha and the club has deteriorated, that United sold him for a staggering loss of £17m after just two appearances in the same amount of years. Zaha is still young and the suggestion that he could bounce back in his career would not be a ridiculous assumption. That Van Gaal and United did not feel that the risk was worth the rewards is astonishing: it is clear that the club wanted to cut ties with a fractious individual that was causing too many problems.

Noises coming out of Selhurst Park, however, have always been overwhelmingly positive; never once has there been the suggestion that Zaha is an immature individual not willing to show some effort. Did his ego swell when he made his big-money move to an elite club? Perhaps. The idea that a player has ‘made it’ has the potential to diminish the hard work put in to get there in the first place.

That being said, Zaha now returns home – an Eagle flying back to his nest. Selhurst Park has always been where he feels at ease, and after moving there on a permanent basis he now has the opportunity to re-start his career. Being just 22-years-old, Zaha potentially still has a bright future ahead of him – if he knuckles down.

Rejection from United does not mean that he will never play for a big club, as indeed some critics have suggested. The football world is a fickle one and opinions change with the wind. Right now Zaha would be considered a risk; he is raw and lacks the drive to make it at the top level. However, that is not to say that two or three solid years for the Eagles won’t make all the difference. Now settled, the young Englishman now has the opportunity for a fresh start – and who is to say he won’t make the most of it?