(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The beginning of Loitering with Intent hints at the novel’s playful exploration of opposites and the ways in which these oppositions frequently coexist: appearance versus reality, life versus fiction, invention versus truth. Fleur Talbot, the narrator, relates a time when she was sitting in a graveyard, writing a poem. She was unemployed, living in a sparsely furnished bed-sittingroom, let by what she describes as a “swinish” landlord. All this should have been the cause for severe depression, but Fleur remembers that, in fact, her morale was high. As a novelist, all these experiences, including the swinishness of her landlord, were opportunities for her to transform reality into fiction; they were novels waiting to be written by her, a woman whose name, like those of many people, did not suit her reality. After all, as Fleur writes, there are always the Joys who are melancholy, the Victors who are timid, the Glorias who are inglorious, and the Angelas who are materialistic. Names and appearances are deceiving in life and in Loitering with Intent.

In telling the story of her life between 1949 and 1950, Fleur thinks back to the time ten months before the episode in the graveyard when she received a letter from a friend telling about an employment opportunity with Sir Quentin Oliver, a pretentious man obsessed with the group he had founded and continued to lead, The Autobiographical Association. Though Fleur would have preferred working for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), she needed the job and accepted the position as secretary to Sir Oliver. The specifics of her position included editing the memoirs of the ten members of The Autobiographical Association. Sir Oliver’s plan was to put these manuscripts away for seventy years, until the autobiographers were dead. Fleur embarked on her job, simultaneously continuing work on a novel...

(The entire section is 767 words.)