Welcoming “The Go-Away Bird” (On Muriel Spark)

Daphne du Toit is the protagonist in the sixty-page Muriel Spark story, “The Go-Away Bird,” a startlingly grim comedy-drama from the 1950s.

Daphne is outrageously (and wickedly) treated by other people, both in a British colony in Africa and home in England.  Even her guardian, Chakata, proves unconcerned about her.  At long last this is enough to make her sit down and despairingly cry, “God help me.  Life is unbearable,” as indeed, in this story, it is.  Even so, willing as I am to see Daphne’s phrase “God help me” as a prayer (as other people see it), I am not so sure that what follows is an answer to this prayer (as other people have claimed).  A killing takes place, and, truth to tell, Spark herself probably considered it an answer to prayer, but the whole outré incident is described with very little positive sentiment.  I thought it impossible to be sanguine about it.

Still, the story is fascinating—and even amusing—although not the kind of chaste and digestible moral tale that Spark’s “The Portobello Road” or “The Ormolu Clock” is.

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