Spark, Muriel. The Driver's Seat.
Lise (34) is buying a colourful dress for her holiday. When the salesgirl tells her the dress is made of a stain-resisting material, she gets into rage at the "offence" and leaves the shop. Back at work in an office, her superior kindly suggests her taking an afternoon off and having a rest, she reacts with a hysterical laugh and then breaks into tears. On leaving the office, she declares she is going "to have the time of my [her] life". In another shop she buys a brightly coloured dress and a coat whose equally bright colours do not go to the dress, she is however delighted with the combination. Leaving the shop, she stops a while to hear whether the salesgirl will tell her colleague about her fancy customer, the salesgirl does so, and Lise leaves with a laugh. In her flat she lies herself on her bed. The flat lacks any personal details, looks as if "uninhabited", each piece of furniture which is not used at the moment is designed so as to be removed to disappear in the wall. Next day she puts on her brightly coloured dress, fails to give in the keys to a porter who offends her on the account of her dress, and leaves in a taxi for the airport.
At the airport she seems to be registering "the fact of her presence" as she walks through the hall in her brightly coloured dress. She has several small wayward talks, including one with a clerk to whom she explains at length her views about luggage and another with a fellow traveller whom she intimates she travels to Naples to meet her boyfriend. She buys a book with brown lovers dressed only in flower garlands depicted on the cover. In the queue to the plane, she keeps close to an elegant looking businessman. She herself is closely followed by another man. She sits down next to the businessman who gets strangely frightened at the sight of her and hurriedly changes his seat. The other man, Bill, with rather rough manners, explains her his rather modified macrobiotic worldview and makes advances toward her. She gets interested in a sick-looking man on the seat behind her. She always exposes her paperback book, as if it were a signal of some sort, she even wants to carry it with herself when she leaves for the toilet. Bill insists on his being her "type", she tells him she thought the sick-looking man was "the right one" but she was mistaken. In Naples, Bill tells her the name of his hotel and gives her a kiss, upon which she startles, but he does not take the kiss too seriously.
In her hotel, Lise delivers some complaints about a missing glass in the room, indeed, the hotel seems to be rather a cheap one. She unpacks her luggage and then puts the things back again. On a map she looks up a park with the "Pavilion" upon which she seems to be intent. She leaves the hotel room and joins an elderly lady, Mrs Fiedke, in a taxi. In the car she slips her passport behind the seat and leaves it there, much to Mrs Fiedke's amazement. The two set out in search of Lise's boyfriend whom she cannot describe, yet she claims she knows him the moment she sees him. Mrs Fiedke falls asleep at a box in the ladies' room, Lise goes to fetch some help but ends up shopping and buying two scarfs, a necktie and a food-blender. Then Mrs Fiedke joins her again. She talks most of the time of her nephew whom she is to meet, while Lise talks about her boyfriend. Lise then takes into her head that Mrs Fiedke's nephew, Richard (24), would be her "type". Lise claims men to be cowards, Mrs Fiedke then expresses her disgust at the metrosexual type of men and speaks about a feminism turned on its head, about men demanding the same rights as women have, though they do not deserve them. The two mingle with a crowd of demonstrating students which is eventually scattered by tear-gas. Lise takes a refuge in a car service whose owner, Carlo, offers her to take her to the hotel. As he makes advances toward her, she overtakes the control of the car and leaves Carlo behind. She drives to the Hilton, in the ladies' room she examines her packages - presents for her family - and self-consciously leaves her keys at the place. In the hall she thinks for a moment she has just come across the right man, she talks to him in a kind of an absurd dialogue, but he does not turn out to be the right one.
She goes to the Metropole to meet Bill. Out in a car, Bill again tries to get close to her, claiming his macrobiotic worldview requires him to have an orgasm each day and he has not had one today yet. Lise orders him to the Pavilion and examines the building, a restaurant closed for night. Bill tries to rape Lise but she runs away and returns to her own hotel. In the hall she meets Richard, recognises him to be the man she was looking for and almost kidnaps him in the car she took away from Carlo. Richard turns out to be the businessman from the plane and the nephew of Mrs Fiedke who has been treated with a serious trouble for a long time but should be fit now again. Lise explains Richard how she wishes to be murdered. First unwillingly, then with some degree of enjoyment, he fulfils her wish and stabs her to death. He runs away in a car though he knows he would be arrested by police and separated by the inspectors so that they would be in no danger of showing their "fear and pity, pity and fear".
- relatively simple contemporary standard language
- neutral, detached, clinically cool tone: states cruel and unexpected facts in a by-the-way tone
- 3rd person point of view, no access to any character's mind
- describes the action of two days
- extended use of flashforwards: Spark reveals Lise will die violently early in the novel
- reveals the basics of the story almost immediately, then follows to trace its details
- climax: Lise's guest for an imaginary lover turns out to be a quest for her very real death
- anagnorisis: Richard's identity
- an isolated individual: failure in communication with the society
- reversed roles: men's struggle for equality, the murderer victimised by his victim
- sick or incompetent people: nervous, hysterical Lise; the criminal Richard; the old lady
- Lise's interest in knives
- Lise's ostenstative behaviour: her dress, her stares, her book exposed for everyone to see
- the "I'm your type" phrase in various modifications
- the love x sex dichotomy
AuthorSpark, Muriel. (1918 - 2006).
Full TitleThe Driver's Seat.
First PublishedLondon: Macmillan, 1970.
Spark, Muriel. The Driver's Seat. (1970). NY: Norton, 1994.