The Lost Booker Prize will be awarded next week on May 19. It is intended to honour the books published in 1970 which because of a change of criteria were not eligible for the Booker.
One of the nominations on the short list is Muriel Spark’s novella The Driver’s Seat.
This is an edgy look at the descent of Lise. It begins innocuously enough with her shopping for clothes. But she becomes undone when the sales assistant suggests that the fabric is good for travel as it repels stains. Lise flips out and screams at the assistant and in a huff proceeds to purchase an outfit of clashing colours and flamboyant design at another shop. Lise is bored and is about to embark on a holiday from her Northern home and have sex with someone who is “her type” in an unnamed Southern destination. She sits beside a man on the airplane who quickly moves to another seat just as the plane is taking off because she is so unnerving. Lise then latches onto Bill, a macrobiotic guru, who talks a lot about not consuming liquids so that women do not urinate more than twice a day. His unusual pronouncements offer a brief respite of humour in this taut and suspenseful psychological portrait. Lise plans to meet him that night at Hotel Metropole. During the day she shops with an elderly woman who is waiting for her nephew to arrive at the hotel. This increasingly bizarre day includes a car theft by Lise from a man who attempted to sexually assault her.
We know that Lise is going to be murdered because Spark has deftly inserted “flash forward” comments from the very beginning which heighten the tension. At same time we never discover why Lise is so driven to this descent which is a kind of fierce madness. The writing is reminiscent of Ruth Rendell in its careful description of the dark side of human nature. But Muriel Spark stands alone here as a sophisticated master of revelation and surprise.