The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark, J B Lippincott Company, 1960, 160 pp
As usual, Muriel Spark was enough over my head that I finished this highly comic novel and was not quite sure what I had just read.
Peckham Rye is a small town outside London and the setting for all kinds of poking fun at members of the English lower middle class. These characters dwell amongst their stodgy British habits but carry on in quite a modern style for the times. Lots of illicit sex going on, gossip and rumor of course.
When Dougal Douglas comes to town and insinuates himself into two rival companies as a "human research" man, ostensibly to improve productivity and thereby profits, he upsets many fixed conditions. He is quite the con man, hardly ever shows up at work, has the business owners completely fooled and messes with various relationships in the town.
If I were to give the novel my own title, it might be "Sympathy for the Devil." It is clever, dastardly, and no one escapes this man's antics including the reader. Though each character is an archetype, or at least a type, they have at the same time a unique humanness.
Muriel Spark has taken the mannered, upper class English novel and turned it on its head. Dougal Douglas does his human research, looking for the fatal flaw in each subject. Thus does the author release the fatal flaw concept from its association with heros and grants the condition to everyman.
(The Ballad of Peckham Rye is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)