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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A woman in her prime, and a woman who is not

#16 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I read this book for the first time in my twenties, perhaps even while in college. But I remember it better than anything I read last year. Not so much because it's such a brilliant book (although it is) but because I had a memory then. Anything I heard or read in my first 30 years is lodged in the Velcro side of my brain, where things stick. Anything I heard or read in my last 15 years is housed in the Teflon portion of my brain, where things slide right out. The decade or so in between the Velcro Age and the Teflon Era is up for grabs.

Miss Brodie may have been in her prime, but clearly, I am not.

What did I remember from my first reading of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? I remembered the dramatic, charismatic Miss Brodie, and her girls, the "Brodie set," each of them famous for something: one for sex, one for her beauty, one for her temper, one for her tiny piggy eyes. I remembered the setting, Edinburgh in the early 1930s, and the two men Miss Brodie becomes involved with. But I didn't remember the book as being funny, which it is, and the amazing structure Spark builds, in which the future is revealed inside the present, and we know how things will unfold and where everyone will end up, but we don't know why.

Spark's precision of language is remarkable, and she manages to compress and reveal so much with so few words. She's like a surgeon, carving away all the fat and fluff, and leaving us with a powerful distillation of people, time, and place.

It's a wonderful read and also a great book to discuss. Book clubs everywhere, put this one on your list!

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