Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

The Takeover was Muriel Spark’s sixteenth novel, following The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale (1974) by two years. Like the earlier novel, The Takeover is concerned with the relationship between truth and lies, materialism and mythology.

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Like The Abbess of Crewe, The Takeover is Spark’s response to the decade of the 1970’s. Spark has subtitled the novel “a parable of the pagan seventies,” and the book can be read on one level as an updated version of the myth of Diana of Nemi. Yet the novel also owes much to the American political climate of the 1970’s. Coco de Renault, for example, begins to use “the new crisis-terminology introduced by the current famous American Secretary of State” Henry Kissinger, and in fact the novel’s landscape reflects a mutation in the very nature of reality “not merely to be defined as a collapse of the capitalist system, or a global recession, but . . . such a mutation that what were assets were to be liabilities and no armed guards could be found and fed sufficient to guard those armed guards who failed to protect the properties they guarded.” Maggie’s jewels and furnishings cannot be guarded from theft and forgery, and ultimately her fortune itself becomes a liability.

One of the novel’s central issues is the distinction between ownership and possession. Neither Hubert, who professes to be the spiritual owner, nor Maggie, who has bought the property, actually owns the villa at Nemi, just as Lauro’s services (as an employee or sexual partner) may be purchased by others but his loyalty is to himself. Lauro is an Italian, and his attitude toward the Americans is indicated by his question to Maggie: “You think you can buy anything, don’t you?” Maggie does think that she can buy anything, but hers is temporary possession which by the end of the novel no longer exists.

A second theme is voiced by Hubert Mallindaine, who, at one point, is apparently penniless yet is hosting a sumptuous dinner party. Hubert believes that “appearances are reality”; “what is opulence,” he asks, “but a semblance of opulence?” In his speech to the Friends of Diana, Hubert asserts not only that “the literal truth is a common little concept, born of the materialistic mind,” but also that “the concepts of property and material possession are the direct causes of such concepts as perjury, Iying, deception and fraud.” His thinking is reminiscent of Spark’s Abbess of Crewe, and both owe much of their being to the American political crises of the 1970’s.

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