Reality and Dreams
Muriel Spark’s twentieth novel, REALITY AND DREAMS, is a sprightly tour through the family of film director Tom Richards, his wealthy and philanthropic wife, Claire, his beautiful daughter, Cora, and their unlovely, vengeful daughter Marigold. In part the book satirizes the pretensions of Richards’ films; in part it looks seriously at the problems of lay-offs and unemployment—what the British call “redundancy.”
The novel’s two themes are unified by the force of Marigold’s personality and the uncanny way in which her real life disappearance mirrors the improbably plot in one of Tom Richard’s films. While Tom recovers from a serious fall, Marigold vanishes and becomes the object of an international manhunt. When she is finally found, it turns out she has deliberately hidden herself in poverty and anonymity as part of her research for a book on unemployment.
Intertwined with these themes of dreams/reality and redundancy are everyone’s infidelities, an attempted murder, the common decencies of nurses and taxi drivers, and the arrogance of the very rich. Marigold’s disappearance, in fact, was motivated by her desire to drive her parents to divorce. Ironically, she brings them closer together. However, Tom is too much the film director to learn from such a gesture. His idea is to direct others’ lives as he directs the characters in his films.
Fittingly, this is a cinematic book—with quick cuts between scenes, sparkling dialogue, sharp characterizations, and a sprinkling of dark comedy. The best character is the unlikable Marigold—spiteful to the end but with a firm grasp on reality that eludes most of the others.
Sources for Further Study
Commonweal. CXXIV, May 9, 1997, p. 23.
London Review of Books. XVIII, November 14, 1996, p. 23.
The New York Review of Books. XLIV, July 17, 1997, p. 31.
The New York Times Book Review. CII, May 11, 1997, p. 7.
The Observer. September 15, 1996, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, January 27, 1997, p. 76.
The Spectator. CCLXXVII, September 14, 1996, p. 34.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 20, 1996, p. 22.
The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXIII, Autumn, 1997, p. 130.
Women’s Review of Books. XIV, July, 1997, p. 38.