Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #76

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Author: Muriel Spark
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: That's a pretty glamorous photo! But what's going on with the weird fighting cherubs on the left?

Thoughts: This story is about a non-traditional teacher at a traditional school for girls in Scotland, sort of a Dead Poets' Society in which the tale is narrated by a former student who has an ambivalent view of her teacher. Miss Brodie refuses to stick to the prescribed curriculum and instead selects a group of particularly malleable students ("the Brodie set") to take under her wing and instruct about the importance of art, fascism, and her own love life. The deceptively simple story is woven between the past and the present as the narrator slips in clues about the fate of Miss Brodie and her ultimate betrayal at the hands of one of the Brodie set.

I liked the way that Spark dug into the hazards of molding children like putty, and her observations of how aware school kids really are of what is happening around them. I also liked the narrator's bittersweet tone as she looks back on the girls from her past and, knowing what she now knows about their lives and fates, wistfully wishes to undo past actions. But I'm not sure that this is a top-100 kind of novel-- I didn't feel moved or changed by it, and I'm not sure that I would heartily recommend it to someone else.

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