My feelings for Spark’s novel are mixed. Considering the story by itself, it is thematically rich. Brodie takes the idea of the teacher’s guiding role in student lives to an extreme—moulding her girls in her own image, planting within each student of her special set one specific quality inherently reflective of Brodie herself. Each student thus becomes a split-self of sorts, their real selves and these imposed selves battling it out as they age and mature. In this sense, the novel is fascinating to read. The choice to split the narration, giving the reader the ability to see how the Brodie set turn out from their own various perspectives was a good decision on Spark’s part.
However, how Spark tells this story is quite frustrating. Even though the novel is only a mere 100 pages, it feels more like 500. To the novel’s merit, Spark accurately achieves recreating a conversational oral tone to her storytelling. However, the novel’s storyteller style is not one that is told traditionally in sequential order. For example, sometimes when you ask a young child or teenager to retell a story orally, the “excited” raconteur will start with the end, then give some details about the beginning, followed by some additional scattered details that happened in the middle—unable to retell the sequential order of events. As well, sometimes in the retelling, thoughts are not verbalized in complete sentences. That is, the storyteller will think the beginning of an event in his head, forgetting to say it orally, and verbalize the end of this event—confusing the listener who might not have a complete frame of reference of what’s being said. This truly describes the reading experience of Spark’s novel. The story’s told back and forth, with a repetition of events already described, though the second or third or fourth time around, with more detail. This kind of storytelling is distracting and detracts from the overall reading experience and the ability to analyze these characters in a traditional, focused way. Spark’s novel is a true postmodern work.
As a side note: After seeing two versions of the story on film, I was glad to finally read the original work. Seeing a film before reading the book on which it’s based, often biases the reader, and both films are quite different from the book. Interestingly, Muriel Spark was said to prefer the film, which I found to be least like her book, the version starring Geraldine McEwan.