Symposium by Muriel Spark


Symposium was one of the last novels written by Muriel Spark, and was published in 1990. It’s the story of a dinner party hosted by Hurley Reed and Chris Donovan, and focuses on the lives (and secrets) of both the dinner party hosts and all eight of their guests. There’s quite a lot happening and there’s a lot to get your head around, but it’s sort of based on the idea of Plato’s Symposium where Spark’s characters reveal information about themselves through dialogue in a symposium (or in this case dinner party) setting.

To be honest, I found it all a bit hard to keep track of. Attention is paid to all ten dinner party attendees, plus there are appearances or mentions of some of their family members and others who don’t really fit the bill of friends or family but still feature in the characters’ lives. I felt that there were too many characters being introduced in too short a time. It’s quite a short book, and so to focus on so many individuals left me feeling quite muddled and I couldn’t remember which backstory belonged to which character or who had revealed what. Perhaps if the dinner party was smaller and with fewer guests, I’d have been able to keep track of what was happening a bit better.

There were also a couple of mysteries on the go which the reader gradually works out, and while this was fun it did also mean that there was more information to keep track of. Burglars are working their way through the houses of the dinner party guests, and we are also teased with a murder throughout. We are given all of the clues to be able to work out exactly who dies and how, but there’s a tantalising wait to see when it will eventually happen. There are also a lot of secrets and dark intentions held by the characters, which is always fun to read but again left me a bit confused due to the amount of information and characters I had to juggle.

Despite the confusion, I did enjoy reading Symposium. Muriel Spark’s a very witty writer, and I did find it quite funny in places. I did also find it a bit overwhelming in places though, mainly due to the size of the cast of characters compared to the length of the book, but it was fun and I enjoyed the mystery aspects of the story. I enjoyed Muriel Spark’s writing style, and I found it to be very readable and quite quick to get through. Perhaps if I’d taken a bit longer to read it I would have been able to separate the characters a bit more in my head, but I like to read short books in as brief a period as possible so it’s more of an immersive experience. This is probably a novel which would benefit from being reread (at least for me), but I think I’d like to experience a bit more of Muriel Spark’s writing first before returning to Symposium. I bought a lovely Vintage collection of six of her books though, so I have plenty more of her writing to enjoy in the near future.

See previous Book Review featuring Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s Muddle Earth.


One thought on “Symposium by Muriel Spark

  1. Pingback: Stonemouth by Iain Banks | The Steel Review

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