“I suppose,” said the man at present sitting in her office, “that you know my story.” She did indeed know his story. She knew it as thoroughly as anyone could, except for the police, who naturally would keep some secrets to themselves.
Hildegard had gathered books, and obtained press cuttings dating from 1974, when the scandal had broken, to the present day. It was a story that was forever cropping up. The man in front of her, aged about 65, looked very like the latest police identikit of Lord Lucan, but so in a different way did the other patient.
The man sitting in front of her had reached down for his briefcase.
“The story is all here,” he said, tapping the bulging bag.
“Tell me about it,” she said.
observations: All Muriel Spark books are odd in their own way, but I thought this one was particularly strange. It takes the figure of Lord Lucan and imagines a future for him. For him and for a kind of stunt double. And also – a real Spark-y touch – for a fake stigmatic who conned trusting believers out of a lot of money.
In real life, Lord Lucan hasn’t been seen since November 1974: since the night his children’s nanny was found murdered in the home of his estranged wife. The general belief is that Lucan killed the nanny by accident, mistaking her for his wife Veronica, then fled the country, possibly with the help of his close circle of friends. He had been living a louche life in London’s Belgravia (the area which starred in the Robert Barnard book in last week’s entry) as a professional gambler – and one who was running out of luck. He was close to bankruptcy, and had lost custody of his children, and was on very bad terms with his wife. Did desperation lead him to commit murder?
Spark’s story has him living a wandering life, helped out by money from his old friends. Two people turn up at the office of a therapist in Paris, both claiming to be the lost Lord. Some other old connections are trying to track him down. The ultimate fate of the real and the false Lord Lucan is highly imaginative and quite gruesome.
It’s as well-written as all Spark’s books, and some of the minor descriptions – such as Beate’s feelings on working in the handbag department of an upmarket store – are quite striking. There is endless repetition of a motif of blood, the blood of the fake holy woman and the blood that was spilt on the night of Sandra Rivett’s death. Spark doesn’t cast any doubt on the accepted story of what happened – there is no hint that there is anything new to report there. She has obviously read the cuttings and the books. I found the book an uncomfortable combination of reality and vivid imagination, and felt it didn’t really work that well. But Spark is always entertaining, and – a very good thing – always writes nice short books.
I have also read a factual book about the Lucan case: A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson (known to me for her highly enjoyable biographies of blog favourites Nancy Mitford and Agatha Christie). This is an excellent and detailed overview of the case, looking at various theories, anomalies and myths. She makes it clear that though there is little doubt as to Lucan’s ultimate guilt – and that he certainly would have been found guilty in court – there are also many mysteries still unsolved and explanations that come up short. It seems likely that Lucan is dead now, and that perhaps no new facts will come to light…
The picture is an engagement photo for Lord Lucan and his wife Veronica, taken in 1963.
Other Muriel Spark books all over the blog – click on the label below.