Robinson by Muriel Spark

RobinsonI’m aiming to do a few “quick hit” type posts this week, both to help get back into the swing and to put off writing about The Good Soldier Švejk for a while (though I should be writing about Švejk immediately after my other war post, sigh).

Today’s I’ve got Robinson, Muriel Spark’s second novel, on the menu. It’s the story of a mid-twentieth-century plane crash of which there are three survivors, stranded on a desert island. Scratch that—the island is not desert, but inhabited by on Robinson (and named after him). Robinson is a man of some independent means who has chosen, for apparently religious reasons, to live basically as a hermit.

The narrator of the novel, January Marlow, is, like a major character in The Comforters, a convert to Catholicism, and though pragmatic is quite serious about the faith. There are Catholic, and specifically Catholic-among-the-English, subtexts to much of the novel. This is a feature of Spark’s writing I’m curious to see develop further as I go further into her novels chronologically, and I don’t have much to say about it at this point other than that Spark seems to me to be an overlooked “Catholic writer,” especially “Anglo-Catholic writer.” I don’t think many put her in the same camp as an Evelyn Waugh or a Graham Greene or a T.S. Eliot (or a Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy) in this respect, and I’ve been wondering more and more whether they shoud.

As for Robinson itself, it’s an exploration of the bounds of civil society and of trust, of religion and reasonableness, of coping mechanisms for both being alone and being among people, and of the changing behavior and even nature of human beings as they shift from a modern-sized society to a small—perhaps suffocatingly small—group. It’s also a bit of a mystery and a thriller.

I haven’t yet gone wrong with Spark, though she doesn’t always do exactly what I wish she would, and I think that’s probably healthy. I’ll be (slowly) continuing through her oeuvre, and look forward to what more I might discover about her writing and my thoughts on it as I go.

2 comments to Robinson by Muriel Spark

  • Interesting — I’ve only read a few Spark novels but this one intrigues me — is it a spin off of Robinson Crusoe?

  • It’s definitely related to Robinson Crusoe, although in a fairly loose way. Robinson is a hermit on the island by choice, partially because he chooses to be a religious hermit—and the religious element of Robinson Crusoe is pretty major. This is really the biggest similarity, though the superficial commonalities are certainly there as well (people waiting to be rescued from an almost-desert island).

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