I’m going to begin today a regular feature on Crafting Culture, “The Weekend Read,” in which I will be recommending works of fiction, poetry and drama by Catholic authors. And I want to begin with a piece by Muriel Spark (1918-2006), who is perhaps better known outside contemporary Catholic circles than she is within them.
“One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle.”
That is the arresting opening line of Spark’s short story, “The Portobello Road.” I had occasion recently to return to “The Portobello Road” and was reminded what a powerful story it is. It is at once a ghost story and murder mystery, full of the bright, angular observations and cold-eyed wit that characterize Spark’s prose. “The Portobello Road” is also a story in which Spark’s Catholic faith finds a clear yet understated voice in the sensibility of the woman we come to know as Needle, Spark’s first person narrator.
Spark has a strong sense of dark comedy akin to that of Evelyn Waugh or Flannery O’Connor, though her use of explicitly Christian themes and imagery is usually more oblique than what we find in Waugh and O’Connor.
There is another and far more quotable sentence from “The Portobello Road” that I am tempted to share, but to do so would ruin the entire effect of the story. I will wait to share it with you next week, by which time I suspect you will have found the sentence I have in mind–
Which sticks out rather like a needle in a haystack.
Enjoy “The Portobello Road.”