Monday, August 27, 2007

The Ballad of Peckham Rye - Muriel Spark

First published 1960; cover shown is the 1977 Penguin Books (UK) paperback reprint. Cover photograph by Van Pariser. 143 pages.

Dougal Douglas, a Scotsman with a deformed shoulder and the remains of horns on his head, is hired by a local Peckham nylon textiles manufacturing firm to boost morale amongst the workers. Within days absenteeism is rife, due to Dougal encouraging workers to take Mondays off.

For reasons known only to himself, Dougal then gets himself a second job: as staff morale booster for a rival manufacturing firm.

He says he's researching the behaviour of Peckham locals, but all the information he obtains is being fed into his typewriter for the biography he's ghostwriting. While Dougal gathers his research, he's also having a hand in breaking up his new friend's relationships, encouraging dissent amongst the employees and spreading rumours.

By the time Dougal skips town - barely escaping with his life - the effect of his personality has resulted in violence and murder. Dougal has become a legend.

This is a strange story, but also a very humorous one. Definitely one of Spark's best.

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