Featuring “a barrister, a ‘priest,’ a detective, a lovelorn Irishman, a handwriting expert, a heinous spiritual medium,” the text on the back cover of my copy of Muriel Spark’s The Bachelors sounds like it should be heading towards the words, “walk into a bar,” but it isn’t. Even though the synopsis for The Bachelors doesn’t provide any obvious punchlines, the book released a year before her most well-known work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, is a dryly humorous romp that skewers the type of man-child characters we see in so many films these days.
Obviously this isn’t the type of book I could see Judd Apatow turning into a flick (although, on second thought, that could be somewhat interesting), but Spark’s proto-bros do invite misfortune through their apathy and strange ways (one of the characters invites girls back to his place, then chews on raw onions in hopes of scaring the girls off because he’s afraid of eternal damnation), so it’s easy to root against them as they’re pulled together by a sinister fake medium who plans on murdering the woman he got pregnant.
Sound like a lot? It isn’t, actually. At under 200 pages, The Bachelors is a short enough read that Spark’s dark sense of humor doesn’t overtake her near-perfect sentences. Spark make it look so simple, writing things like, “During tea, Elise ate a slice of walnut cake very quickly because she was so very upset inside at the sight of Mike in his highly sexual attire.” Spark’s story of men who are unable to do the right thing, and the problems that they encounter, isn’t a laugh-out-loud hoot — and it isn’t her masterpiece, either. What it is, however, is another example of what a truly exceptional writer Spark was. By performing a balancing act the way she does while pushing so much into so little — all the characters, their weird backgrounds, and how they weave together — The Bachelors is a great read and the sort of secondary work by a great writer that you really should read.