Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 15, 2014

The Driver’s Seat (1970), by Muriel Spark, read by Judi Dench

The Driver's SeatI was quite enthralled by this rather strange novella, but I’m glad it wasn’t the first Muriel Spark novel I read.

Because  it might well have been the last. I might have dismissed it hastily, and crossed Spark off my list of authors to explore. Fortunately for me, I had read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie back in the year 2000, and more recently I’d read the swish Folio edition of The Girls of Slender Means (see my review).  So I was more tolerant of the spiky prose and peculiar characterisation than I might have been, and of course I was also captivated by the splendid voice of Judi Dench as she  narrated it.

It’s the story of Lise, an office worker setting off for a holiday on the continent, terrorising shop girls with her outrageous attitude to frocks and startling the entire plane with her odd behaviour.  Well, not quite everyone, Lise manages to captivate Bill, who has the seat beside her.  Bill’s macrobiotic diet apparently requires him to achieve two orgasms a day and he has his eye on the main chance, but a holiday romance this is not. Authorial foreshadowing alerts the reader to Lise’s eventual fate, but it is certainly not the one that I was expecting.

The plot, frankly, is completely bizarre, but once you reach the conclusion, it does make a peculiar kind of sense.  Lise , for reasons not revealed until the end, has a death wish, because it’s the only thing she can control. This makes the novel rather confronting, and it made me wonder if Spark would have written it today, when things are so very different.

If you are quite sure that you are never going to read The Driver’s Seat, or if you’ve already read it, you will probably enjoy this amusing video review of the film version.

The Driver’s Seat is listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 edition) and it was apparently Muriel Spark’s favourite novel.

It isn’t mine.

Update: Kim at Reading Matters loved it!

Author: Muriel Spark
Title: The Driver’s Seat
Publisher: Canongate Books, 2010, first published 1970
ISBN: 9781471220951
Source: Kingston Library


Try your library or Brotherhood Books.


  1. Jean Brodie is the only Muriel Spark novel I’ve read, and that was several years ago so I should read another soon. The Driver’s Seat has been sitting on my wishlist for a while as I’d heard it described as spiky!


    • I loved that one too, and the film was great as well. There’s one more I’d really like to try and that’s Memento Mori, which hints at a similar preoccupation with death to this one…


  2. I read this book several years ago and absolutely loved it.


  3. Oh, this is a wonderful book, but so much more disturbing than her others. For a moment I thought you had said it was “comforting” and blinked – but no, “confronting” is the word and I wouldn’t say “rather”. I always think it’s a pity that so many peoole know her for Jean Brodie and not “Memento Mori” or “A Far Cry from Kensington.”
    (“He actually raped her, she was amazed”. Genius.)


    • Have you reviewed either of those? I’d love to have a link if you have…


      • No, I don’t do many reviews, and not usually of people who have already been much written-about. But she’s an all-time favourite of mine.


  4. What an amusing review. Quite something isn’t he.


  5. His Lisa. Thanks for letting me know about this. I’ll have to come back once I’ve had a chance to watch the film itself. The prospect of Elizabeth Taylor as Lise is too tantalising to miss!


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