Original date of publication: 1979
My edition: 1979 (Granada)
Why I decided to read: Muriel Spark Reading Week
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, February 2012
Set at the time of publication (late 1970s), Territorial Rights was written during the period that Spark lived in Italy. The novel contains all the classic Muriel Spark elements: strange characters, murder, blackmail, and a slightly bizarre, highly-charged atmosphere. It’s a novel about the complications that can occur with deception—because everyone in this book has something to hide. But the characters are almost archetypes, serving as vehicles for the larger story. It’s just as comical as some of her other books, and I’m really enjoying this novel. In this case, there’s a possible kidnapping and a 30-year-old mystery dating back to WWII.
Robert comes to the Pensione Sofia in order to escape a disastrous relationship he left back in England—but almost as soon as he arrives, he runs into his father, a retired headmaster who’s on vacation with another woman. Back in England, Robert’s mother hires the services of a detective agency whose acronym is GESS (guess get it?). Also present is Robert’s art-collector friend Curran and Robert’s girlfriend Lina, a Bulgarian refugee with an untenable grasp on the English language (“I don’t have no spare cash”). All of these characters link back to a mystery that happened thirty years ago at the Pension Sofia.
As I’ve said, the characters are kind of archetypes: the Bulgarian refugee (although she is charming), the (supposedly) cheating husband, the (supposedly) betrayed wife, the mysterious Mr. B at GESS, etc. The characters seem to have a very loose link to each other, and the end of the story didn’t tie together very well—in fact, it all pretty much unravels as everyone leaves Italy, thereby returning to the “territorial rights” of home. That said, though I did enjoy this book; I liked how the mysteries of both past and present intertwined with one another. A Muriel Spark novel wouldn’t be complete wouldn’t be complete without a hint of the bizarre; in this case it’s not only the multiple mysteries but also the city of Venice, an enigma unto itself. Probably one of my favorite Muriel Spark novels, but my all-time favorite is still The Girls of Slender Means.