My rubbish memory is letting me down again! I can’t remember who I saw reading this one, prompting me to send off for a copy; but when I heard what they had to say, I was intrigued enough to get it. One day, I will have to make a note of these things! Anyway, get to the point KBR… The book I want to share today is by an author I love, and it’s “The Bachelors” by Muriel Spark. I’ve read a good number of her works, mostly pre-blog I think, and she’s a real original, a one-off. Her stories are strange and often dark (a recent read, “The Driver’s Seat” was *very* bleak), but always entertaining. “The Bachelors”, first published in 1960, is one of her earlier books, and I don’t think it gets as much coverage as some of her other works – and there may be a reason for that…

The bachelors of the title are based in London; middle-aged men with job varying from barrister to handwriting expert, taking in a medium and a so-called priest along the way. They sit in their clubs, have women who ‘do’ for them or live with their mothers, and initially seem to live fairly ordinary lives. However, it soon transpires that they don’t… because many of them spend their time attending spiritualist meetings, focused around Patrick Seton, apparently a very talented medium. Seton, however, is in a difficult situation; a widow, Flora Flowers, has accused him of fraud and he’s due up in court. His girlfriend, Alice Dawes, is pregnant and refusing to have an abortion; Seton is afraid he’ll get sent to prison; and hostile forces are trying to turn the group of spiritualists against him. Alice can see no wrong in Patrick; but her best friend, Elsie, is suspicious and intends to investigate. As well as encountering a very un-priestly priest, the epileptic Ronald Bridges (who, as a handwriting expert, may know more about the evidence) and a love-lorn Irishman, she’ll have to deal with the fact that Alice is not happy about Elsie’s investigations. But who really *is* telling the truth, and is Patrick what he seems…?

In reality, the plot is much more convoluted than that short summary above, and if I’m honest I got a bit lost in the middle. There are a *lot* of characters involved, much dialogue and I did feel that some of it was extraneous. Yes, Spark is always darkly funny, and her painting of her characters was very entertaining. However, I felt the book could have been pruned without losing any of its impact; perhaps increasing it, even. There was a point half way through when I even contemplated abandoning the book as I was getting a little frustrated and wanted Spark to get on with it. Fortunately, towards the end of the book the plot takes off, becomes much darker, and you see where Spark was going all along. It *is* dark, too – but then that’s not surprising, as she so often is. The truth about Patrick Seton is revealed (although Spark does leave you with plenty of questions about other events and characters); and the final chapters were most exciting as I raced through them.

So I have mixed feelings about the book; it’s mainly wonderfully written, very Sparkian and full of dark humour, and the final third or so is very engrossing. However, it does seem a bit baggy in places and definitely would have benefited I think from a little judicious editing; there *were* places where it dragged a bit for me. There is, I think, much under the surface re Catholicism and spiritualism, and that perhaps overshadows the narrative; unless, of course, Spark was using her story to critique both, but I don’t feel qualified in going into that. Nevertheless, the characters (most of them quite unpleasant!) will definitely stay with me, and so I’m glad I did finish the book; but I’m afraid it won’t be on the list of my favourite Muriel Spark books!


Intriguingly, Ali read this one when she hosted her Muriel Spark readalong in 2018, and she seems to have had mixed feelings too – you can read her thoughts on The Bachelors here.