Times Literary Supplement (review date 1969)
SOURCE: “Brand Loyalties.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 3494 (13 February 1969): 151.
[In the following review of The Spark, the critic praises Davie for her ability to create a sinister, macabre atmosphere in her stories, but criticizes her for failing to produce strongly defined characters.]
Miss Elspeth Davie is expert at picking the sinister out of the ordinary and at heightening normal situations into something obsessive or macabre. One of the best stories in this collection [The Spark], “The Siege”, begins with a new widow sensibly determining that just because her husband has died she isn't going to halve the intake of her household supplies. After all, the bargains come in the big packets. As shopping gradually takes over her life we watch the stores filling her flat till, notwithstanding a brief sally as a glum advertisement lady for a new breakfast biscuit of which she has bought a record number, we leave her, absolutely alone with her eerie hoards of food and polishes.
Where Miss Davie sticks to a single theme like this she is a compelling writer and she is particularly good on lonely people, isolated by their own peculiarities. She is less successful when she has to differentiate between a number of characters. Sometimes this fault is not crucial—as in “Family House”, where there is a unifying force in the house which dominates all its inhabitants. But one feels that the picture of the two young men in the story about the photograph shop ought to be clearer and the girl who is obsessed by maps needs more than a few superficial contours herself.