(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Mandelbaum Gate—in some respects a parody of the popular novel of intrigue—is set in the troubled Middle East of 1961, indeed at the very time of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. The action surges back and forth between Israel and Jordan, countries which are archenemies. In this environment, only those individuals who scrupulously obey the rules or those who are clever enough to evade them can survive.

Freddy Hamilton, a diplomat, is aware of the dangers of travel back and forth between Israel and Jordan, especially for anyone with Jewish blood. Therefore, he attempts to dissuade Barbara Vaughan, an English schoolteacher, from her planned trip to Jordan to visit her fiance, Harry Clegg. Although Barbara is a Roman Catholic by faith, she is half-Jewish. Unaccustomed to the intrigue of this new environment and too stubborn to take seriously Freddy’s warnings, Barbara makes no secret of her background, and before she arrives in Jordan, the gossips and spies have sent word ahead of her.

Realizing that Barbara is in real danger—at best of arrest, at worst of execution in “accident” form—the cautious Freddy Hamilton sets out to find her. After he reappears at his hotel, however, Freddy discovers that two days are missing from his life. Gradually his memory returns. To his surprise, he learns that he descended in disguise upon the convent where Barbara was staying, garbed her as an Arab, and sent her on to complete her pilgrimage. When she came down with scarlet fever, Suzi Ramdez, the independent, adventuresome sister of Freddy’s tolerant friend Abdul Ramdez, hid her at a house owned by the mistress of Joe Ramdez, Abdul’s father. Meanwhile, Barbara’s headmistress, who had considered Barbara her possession in a relationship with sexual overtones, arrived in Jordan to break up the engagement and take Barbara back to England. Overcome by the same...

(The entire section is 774 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Kemp, Peter. Muriel Spark, 1974.

Malkoff, Karl. Muriel Spark, 1968.

Massie, Alan. Muriel Spark, 1979.

Whittaker, Ruth. The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark, 1982.