Sunday, January 8, 2017

Robinson by Muriel Spark

Jimmie and I were quite put out. My attempts to teach the cat Bluebell to play ping-pong were partly inspired by a desire to impress Miguel. He seemed to think it was an unworthy idea. Jimmie, who had been suffering from delayed shock, although his physical injuries had been slight, went so far as to attempt a cart-wheel on the patio, and suffered a nasty nose-bleed as a result. Miguel was indifferent. 

Muriel Spark's Robinson tells the tale of January Marlow (not Jan, thank you) and her months as a castaway on Robinson, an island in the middle of the Atlantic where her plane has crashed. Marooned with her are two other passengers along with Robinson and Miguel, the island's proprietor and his young, adopted son. The castaways arrive in June and are stranded until the pomegranate boat arrives in August. January entertains with her observations of her companions and life on the island until helps arrives.

Robinson is a reluctant host (he lives by himself on an island for a reason), and while he does his best to care for his guests and keep the peace, he remains withdrawn and enigmatic to us and to January. He does, however, encourage the narrator to keep a journal, and her narration is interspersed with excerpts from her journal in which Robinson has told her to write "only the facts." Halfway through the novel, Robinson disappears, and the ensuing search and mourning take up most of the rest of the story. With his disappearance, the tone turns darker. Suspicions run high, and January's mind is put to work deciphering what has happened (instead of training cats to play ping pong).

The other two castaways are the prime suspects in Robinson's disappearance (January knows she didn't do it and Miguel is too young). Tom Wells, the requisite con-artist/occultist in any Spark novel, spends his time making vaguely inappropriate sexual remarks about everyone and complaining about the income he's losing from being stranded on an island for two months, unable to sell good luck charms to unsuspecting desperate folks. Wells is much more interesting (and much creepier) once he becomes a murder suspect, but I found him sort of dull otherwise. Jimmie Waterford, January's Dutch love interest, is hilarious and sold the book for me. He has a somewhat mysterious connection to Robinson, a flirtatious relationship with January, and the best speech patterns I've seen since premium dancer, Alex Perchov, in Everything is Illuminated.  January explains that his "peculiar idiom [...] had been acquired, first from a Swiss uncle, using Shakespeare and some seventeenth-century poets as textbooks, and Fowler's Modern English Usage as a guide, and secondly from contact with Allied forces during the war." Here is my favorite snippet:
"I commence to think," said Jimmie, "that Robinson is becoming exceedingly cheesed." 
I plan on referring to every annoyed person I encounter as "exceedingly cheesed" from now on (and considered writing this entire review in Jimmie's voice).

Overall, I was just as charmed and entertained by Robinson as I've come to expect to be by Spark. January was gutsy and quick-witted, and Jimmie provided excellent inadvertent comic relief. The island was excitingly spooky, and the story was just enough of a twist on the prototypical castaway tale to work. 

1 comment:

Christopher said...

This one hasn't stuck with me like a lot of them but I do remember it being a lot of fun. I'm going to bring another one for you this weekend.