Book: Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
Age/Genre: Adult Fiction
Preferred Reading Environment: In a library or a cozy study. Somewhere surrounded by books.
Reading Accoutrements: There’s a lot of tea-drinking in this book, so I suggest you follow suit. A proper English tea would be appropriate, though I, being American, cannot accurately define that for you.
Content Notes: There’s quite a bit throwing around of the word “crazy,” some gaslighting (by villains) and some references to suicide.
I do not have a solid remembering of why I decided to get Loitering with Intent. I wasn’t familiar with Muriel Spark before this, though her name does not seem unfamiliar and I wasn’t surprised to see she’s written many, many books.
Anyway, as I was scouring my to-read pile, I thought Loitering with Intent was a great title for a book to start off the new year. January is supposed to be all about a fresh start and setting intentions. So based on title alone, I put it on my list for January reviews.
I didn’t remember why I’d picked this book in the first place, so I was thrilled when I re-read the book synopsis on the inside cover. The quote that defines the book, used in the blurb as well as several times throughout the story is, “How wonderful it feels to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century.” And indeed, the main character of this book is a flourishing woman striving to become a successful author.
Loitering with Intent is the memoir of fictional author Fleur Talbot. She tells us of a period of about a year in which she worked for an autobiographical association. This loosely-organized group of people are in the process of writing their memoirs to be put away for seventy years and released after any danger of breaking libel laws is passed.
Fleur is hired by the founder of the group, Sir Quentin Oliver, to do secretarial work, as well as type and edit the manuscripts of the members. Fleur is skeptical of Sir Quentin’s intentions, but feels that the people she works with will be entertaining. She is in the process of completing her first novel, which she’s cautiously hopeful will see some success.
Fleur is what might be called a typical bohemian in 1949 London. She lives in a cramped rented room, is friends and acquaintances with all sorts of colorful characters, and has no doubt that she is an artist at heart. Fleur doesn’t care too much what other people think of her work, partially because she doesn’t particularly respect a lot of the people around her. Fleur keeps the company of many people she doesn’t seem to like all that much. The book implies that this is largely because she uses people as inspiration, and that there was “a daemon inside me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were.
We learn early in the story that Fleur is having an affair with a married man. His wife, Dottie, is aware, and is a bigger character in the book than he is. The dynamic between Dottie and Fleur provides a lot of humor, as well as insight into Fleur’s willingness to put up with nonsense and lack of desire to start drama where it isn’t needed. She truly doesn’t wish Dottie ill, trying to give her decent advice, but is not opposed to ignoring her and kicking her out of her place when she becomes overly obnoxious.
Fleur sees her affair, as well as most issues, in a very straightforward light. She does not seem to ascribe morality to her affair. Several times, Dottie calls her hard, heartless, and other variations that serve to show that Fleur isn’t acting emotional enough for Dottie’s sensibilities. Overall, Fleur doesn’t overly judge the people around her by their life choices or personal quirks. Most people she sees as just people. They have their peculiarities and annoyances, but there’s not much use in being bothered by them. She lets them live their lives as she wishes to live her own.
The people Fleur does like and get along with tend to be social outcasts. There’s her dear friend Solly, a night journalist prone to obscenities, and Edwina, Sir Quentin’s mother, whom most of the world has written off as crazy. Everyone in the association assumes Fleur is befriending Edwina to get on her good side and become written into her will, but Fleur genuinely enjoys the woman’s company and also happens to dislike the people who treat Edwina poorly.
Throughout this book, Fleur deals with a lot of minor inconveniences. Dottie regularly shows up uninvited. Fleur’s landlords aren’t always happy about her social habits. People in the association feel entitled to her time and sometimes treat her as a servant. There is a major point of conflict at the end of the book that does have a bit of suspense, but a lot of the plot is just character interaction. It shows a lot about Fleur’s state of mind as she was writing her first novel and seeking publication. The title is a great description of the book’s acton – it feels like you’re loitering as you’re reading, just killing some time. This is by no means a bad thing – in fact, Fleur uses the term “loitering with intent” as a somewhat positive phrase, and I think that sums up the heart of the book.
Fleur’s creativity is peaked by her willingness to loiter. She doesn’t meander aimlessly, but she doesn’t have too many worries over her exact trajectory. Her schedule is malleable, and she takes opportunities as they come. Since the character is narrating her memoirs after she’s become a successful author, I think that it can be said that Muriel Spark is advocating for this type of approach to art.
In that light, I do think that this is a great book to inspire for the new year. It’s a light, easy read that shows the importance of not taking things too seriously, while still working hard for your goals. In all the talk of resolutions and goals for the year, it’s important to keep in mind that your dreams coming true only matters if they still make you happy. Fleur stays strong to herself throughout the novel and shrugs off what the world thinks. She’s not the normal character I imagine when I think “woman in London in 1949” but she seems very real. The setting overall seems realistic as well, though I can’t say a ton about whether it accurately depicts post-war London. We do see some effects of the war, with mentions of rations, characters with war injuries, etc.
I liked Loitering with Intent a lot. I plan on reading it again someday, and also finding more Muriel Spark novels to check out. Her writing style was approachable, but also had depth. I feel like a lot happens beneath the surface to communicate deeper points that aren’t necessarily directly connected to the plot. The characters are well-rounded, the setting is easy to picture, and the dialogue is sharp.
What has inspired you so far this year? Do you have any creative goals you wish to pursue? Share in the comments!