Critical opinion about Muriel Spark’s status as a novelist is sharply divided. In general, her work is less highly valued by American critics; Frederick Karl, for example, dismissed her work as being “light to the point of froth” and said that it has “virtually no content.” English critics such as Frank Kermode, Malcolm Bradbury, and David Lodge, on the other hand, consider Spark a major contemporary novelist. Kermode complimented her on being “obsessed” with novelistic form, called The Mandelbaum Gate a work of “profound virtuosity,” and described Spark as a “difficult and important artist.” Bradbury, who regarded Spark as an “interesting, and a very amusing, novelist” from the beginning of her career, later added his assessment that she was also a “very high stylist” whose work in the novella shows a precision and economy of form and style. In a reassessment of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Lodge commented on the complex structure of the novel and Spark’s successful experimentation with authorial omniscience.
Spark was known for being able to combine popular success with critical acclaim. In 1951, she received her first literary award, the Observer Story Prize for the Christmas story “The Seraph and the Zambesi.” A radio drama based on The Ballad of Peckham Rye won the Italia Prize in 1962, and in the same year she was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1965, Spark received the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Mandelbaum Gate. Mary Shelley received a Stoker Award in 1987. Spark was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993, and in 2001 she received an honorary doctor of literature degree from the University of London. In 2004, she was presented with the Edinburgh International Book Festival Enlightenment Award.