TITLE: THE PUBLIC IMAGE
AUTHOR: MURIEL SPARK
PUBLISHER: PENGUIN BOOKS
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
The Public Image was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1969.
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
Annabel Christopher is a goddess to her adoring public, her tiger eyes and loving husband part of her perfect image. To keep the eager sycophants, ruthless paparazzi and anxious admirers under her spell that image must be carefully cultivated, manipulated to ensure maximum exposure – of the most flattering kind.
Only Annabel hasn’t calculated for the perfidious plans of her desperate husband, Frederick, filled with loathing at the inexplicable success of his ingratiating, untalented wife…
It was the middle of a Friday morning. The sun shone, gold-brown on the expanse of parquet floor, in room after room.
Once again I found myself disappointed by Spark’s work. I’ve read rave reviews of The Public Image and just don’t get it. I must have missed something. I enjoyed The Girls of Slender Means more. I felt The Public Image was just okay, nothing original or impressive. I’ve read a lot worse but far, far better.
I love the title. It’s the reason I picked this up in the first place.
I like the idea behind The Public Image. Annabel is obsessed by appearances and her insecure, jealous and fed-up husband commits suicide and screws her over royally by leaving a series of suicide notes that trash her perfect reputation. The media and the public’s obsession with fame is a fascinating idea. I just don’t think Spark pulls this off. Annabel is a bitch who deserves everything she gets. I felt sorry for Fredrick because he was driven to suicide by his cow of a wife.
I’m not sure if the characterisation works in The Public Image. On one hand, Annabel was a piece of work and I felt quite delighted when her perfect little world started to unravel. I felt some pity for Fredrick being married to her. On the other hand, I felt they were both unsympathetic characters – the vain, spoilt actress and her put upon husband. They were almost cartoonish. I also felt Fredrick was a bit of a sad bastard and a wet end for killing himself when he should just have punched her one in the mouth or divorced her.
The Public Image is set in Rome where Annabel and Fredrick have just moved following the unexpected success of her latest movie. Spark does a pretty awful job at creating a realistic picture of Rome. The Public Image could have been sent anywhere. I got no sense of place from The Public Image. Spark gives us no sense of the culture, climate, people etc of Rome. That’s just lazy writing if you ask me. If an author is going to set a novel in a foreign country they need to bring the place alive. Spark should take a leaf out of Arthur’s Golden’s book. His Memoirs of a Geisha is set in Japan and I felt like I was actually there immersed in the culture and wonder of it all. Spark basically informs us that The Public Image is set in Rome and makes no attempt to create a sense of this place. That’s more lazy writing.
Spark tries to explore the world of celebrity, fame and the paparazzi but ultimately doesn’t pull it off. The characters were the worst kind of stereotypes. The novella is set in Rome, a country steeped with rich culture and history and Spark makes no attempt to capture any of this. I really don’t get it. I have no idea how The Public Image ended up being shortlisted for a Booker.