An old-fashioned killing
Posted December 30, 2012on:
Bang-Bang You’re Dead is a sophisticated story for sophisticated readers. At the beginning I was having to re-read each sentence three or four times. The English isn’t difficult but the context is. The narrator is at a friend’s house watching some old reels of film from her life in South Africa. Many questions played through my mind. How old is the person telling the story? Where is she? How old was she in that film? Who are these friends? Are they close friends or just acquaintances? Gradually, if you’re patient, the questions get answered. The reels of film trigger flashbacks and revive old memories. The watchers of the films get one story. We get another.
It’s an ambitious technical device and I was thinking that I was going to be very disappointed if the narrator didn’t do something special with it and repay the effort I was making to interpret the layers of meaning.
But as the story unfolded I realised before I got to the end that I actually was being treated to something very special indeed. I became engrossed in the story and in the searingly honest character of the narrator. As she began to dissect her emotions and the motivations behind her relationships, I became hooked.
The layered viewpoints and the indirectness of the storytelling are not gratuitous. There are poignant ironies in the story that the narrator couldn’t have conveyed any other way.
The tension builds. There is a climax. It’s beautifully done. It’s astonishingly economical storytelling. Thirty-eight succinct pages hold all the depth and range of a novel.
And then there is one final, crushing, heart-stopping revelation. Something she can’t tell her friends but which she has told us, the sophisticated readers, who have stayed with her story to the end. I was totally gripped by the last few pages. Nothing could have wrenched me from my seat.
Muriel Spark seems to be regarded as old-fashioned by some readers these days. That seems a great pity. This kind of narrative power should never go out of fashion. It is heartening to see, therefore that her complete stories have recently been published in a new edition by Canongate, one of the more enlightened of British independent publishers (another of their recent titles was Life of Pi).