Ray Banks is the critically acclaimed author of the Cal Innes quartet and some of the grittiest novellas you’ll ever get your hands on. His latest, Wolf Tickets, is out now from Blasted Heath. He’s also the evil genius behind Norma Desmond’s Monkey and The Saturday Boy.
His pick is The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark.
The Driver’s Seat is a brief, brutal horrorshow of a novel, and it goes a little something like this: Lise, a thirty-four-year-old “Northern” (probably Scandinavian) woman takes a holiday from her soul-destroying work in an accounts office to spend some time in the “South” (more than likely Italy, probably Naples). Over the course of around forty-eight hours, she will shriek at a sales assistant for trying to sell her a stain-resistant dress, scare a fellow traveller into moving seats on a plane, hook up with a macrobiotic food guru, accompany an elderly woman on a shopping trip, narrowly avoid being raped and then, finally, get stabbed to death. This last event isn’t much of a spoiler, given that Chapter 3 begins:
“She will be found tomorrow morning dead from multiple stab-wounds, her wrists bound with a man’s necktie, in the grounds of an empty villa, in the park of a foreign city to which she is travelling on the flight now boarding at gate 14.”
Spark’s novel doesn’t make it easy to care. Lise is defined wholly by her interactions with others, and her gleefully irrational behaviour can only really be understood on multiple readings, where her deceit, instability, exhibitionism and eventual destruction make more psychological sense. Indeed, it’s only on a second reading that The Driver’s Seat shows its true colours. This is more a novel about free will than it is about predestination, and Spark subverts not only the idea of a murder investigation, but also the murderer-victim relationship. On top of that, she provides a caustic, clear-eyed and ultimately rather prescient commentary on the banality of a modern society that can’t believe in anything beyond its own digestive system. Lise, with her stark, proto-Ikea utilitarian lifestyle becomes the very definition of the hysterical modern consumer, now obsessed with buying the accessories for an ideal death and striving to be remembered, even if it just for her murder. And so The Driver’s Seat doesn’t just work as a crime novel, but also as a pitch-black satire that remains utterly relevant to this day.
– Ray Banks
The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.