Monday, October 17, 2011
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE by Muriel Spark
Dougal Douglas, or Douglas Dougal depending upon when and on what side of town you meet him, is a Scottish devil. He offers to let most anyone feel the nubs of his horns buried in his curly red hair. The good working-class citizens of Peckham Rye, a South London suburb where people speak with distaste of any need to "cross the river," don't know quite what to make of Dougal or his nubby horns. If he is not a devil he is certainly a rascal, a young man who cons his way into local industry as an "arts man," a position recommended by progressive minded politicians who think if only workers could expand their minds they might also be less inclined to absenteeism. Dougal takes this position at two competing firms, hence the name change, and sets about his "human research" that assures he seldom darkens either of his offices. Instead he makes friends all over Peckham, which means, in effect, he sets about ruining several peoples' lives.
When Spark published her novel in 1960, Peckham Rye was a shining example of British pettiness and tedium. During the next decades it would become one of the highest crime districts in London, and hints of violence among discontented youth run throughout the novel. For her characters the sophisticated city across the river was equally a lure and a object of distrust. They like their quiet life in Peckham Rye, which retains some of its pre-suburban village character. They are sitting ducks for Dougal's freewheeling, mayhem-inducing charades. By the time the Scotsman feels its time to leave, he has left broken hearts, cancelled weddings, and crimes of passion in his wake.
Spark tells her story in an economical 140 pages.
I like to think that in the picture below she is writing the scene that involves murder by corkscrew.