was the driver seat

The Driver's Seat (novel)

The Driver's Seat is a novella by Muriel Spark. Published in 1970, it was advertised as "a metaphysical shocker". It is indeed in the psychological thriller genre, dealing with themes of alienation, isolation and loss of spiritual values.

It was filmed as Identikit in 1974. Spark described it as one of her favourite novels.

Plot summary

Lise is a spinster, working in an accountancy firm somewhere in Northern Europe, probably Denmark (the location is not explicitly specified). Spark described The Driver's Seat as a 'whydunnit' (and she uses the term in the novel). This is because in the novel's third chapter it is revealed that Lise will be murdered. Hence Spark's novel is an examination, not of what events take place but why they do so.

Lise's strangeness and her isolation is mirrored in Spark's detached narrative. It is eventually revealed that Lise has suffered years of illness; her erratic and often confrontational behaviour and her garishly clashing, provocative clothing continually alert the reader of this.

Lise travels to a South European city, apparently Naples, ostensibly to meet her illusory boyfriend. But her quest is more complex: it is not merely for acknowledgement, but also annihilation (she admits that I wish my parents had practised birth control) and ultimately the story is about a woman seeking to control her own death. The Driver's Seat is a study in the alienation and isolation of modern life, in which trendy New Age "lifestyles" replace genuine spirituality and in which chaos and absurdity replaces the moral certainty of the God-ordered world. Deprived of these values and existing in a small, sterile, impersonal world (reflected in her blandly expensive, utilitarian flat), Lise is driven to search not for her ideal lover but her ideal death. Spark perverts the traditional fairy tale romance, denying the reader the comfort that the perfect love affair is the antidote to the empty isolation of modern life. In its place she raises a series of thought-provoking, disturbing questions about the nature of female victimisation and empowerment and the debasement of social and spiritual values in modern society.


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