There are many parallels between Muriel Spark and her protagonist, Caroline Rose. Both are half-Jewish converts to Catholicism, and both are writers concerned not only with the form of the modern novel but also with the problems of good and evil in the modern world. Like Muriel Spark, Caroline Rose is an “intellectual” Catholic whose faith enables her to see the world from the vantage point of satire. Both women are observers, and both maintain a healthy distance from the worlds they observe.
Muriel Spark has the great gift of conveying the whole of a character in a very few strokes. Louisa Jepp, for example, “is short, and seen from the side especially, her form resembles a neat double potato just turned up from the soil with its small round head, its body from which hang the roots, her two thin legs below her full brown skirt and corpulence.” In the following description of Georgina Hogg, Spark suggests that she is as beastly physically as she is spiritually: “an angular face, cropped white hair, no eyelashes, rimless glasses, a small flat nose of which the tip was twitching as she ate, a very thin neck, a colossal bosom.”
Secondary characters are described equally effectively by what is omitted rather than what is stated. Caroline’s comforters—Willi Stock, who belongs to “one of the half-worlds of Caroline’s past,” Laurence Manders, a believer in “sheer literal truths,” and Helena Manders, with her “peculiar faith that no evil could touch her”— are kept shadowy and indistinct while “whitehaired young-faced Ernest Manders” and his wife Eleanor, “indistinct, in need of some touching-up,” are “almost not there at all.”
Spark similarly omits more than she reveals about her protagonist. Instead of physical descriptions, the reader is given momentary insights into her thoughts, which are “fine as teeth.” Caroline’s relationship to the novel is paradoxical: “. . . of her constant influence on its course she remained unaware and now she was impatient for the story to come to an end, knowing that the narrative could never become coherent to her until she was at last outside it, and at the same time consummately inside it.”