Muriel Spark is an astute observer of human nature, her new novella, The Finishing School, a reminder that she hasn't lost her talent for wry perspective and incisive wit.
College Sunrise is a unique finishing school, offering eclectic courses for well-advantaged youth in limited numbers - currently nine students. Of these well-heeled students, Christopher Wiley is an incipient prodigy, writing his first historical novel about the murder of Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary Queen of Scots, albeit with some revision of fact in service to the authorís vision.
The director of College Sunrise, Rowland Mahler, is riddled with jealousy over the progress of young Chrisí novel, his own first book languishing for lack of imagination. Rowland and his supportive wife, Nina, have created the school as a backdrop for Rowlandís writing efforts. But instead of progress, Rowland is increasingly obsessed with his studentís novel. Indeed, the very thought of the young manís success is driving the director quite mad. Chris finds this interest inspirational, stimulating.
As Rowlandís interest in Chrisí activities grows, the school loses its focus, not having been particularly well-structured to begin with. Nina is impatient with her husbandís inability to make progress on his novel but determined to keep things on track for the good of the school and her own future plans.
Muriel Spark dissects this rarified world with her usual alacrity: a bevy of students with an existential curriculum that does little to advance education but much to entertain. The students attend their classes, blithely unconcerned about the future thanks to a privileged existence. Relationships are changeable, disposable in the authorís satiric view of life in The Finishing School. For all the high drama, all that really changes is a revolving cast of characters, each as self-serving as the other. Happiness is transitory in the service of ego and advantageous associations. In other words, but for a few months of classes behind the doors of College Sunrise, life goes on.