Welcoming “The Go-Away Bird”

The Scottish Muriel Spark was an unusual tragicomic artist, a bright Catholic author. Her sixty-page tale, “The Go-Away Bird,” revolves around the orphaned Daphne du Toit, who lives with her guardian, white Chakata, in a British colony in Africa. When she is not there, she is in England, having disappointing, even adulterous, love affairs and being exploited for money by one Greta Casse. In the African colony, however, sinister aggression arises. Spark informs us of the following: “Daphne called aloud, ‘God help me. Life is unbearable.'” The utter insufficiency of human relationships is one of the story’s themes. So—for all the story’s droll content—is death as liberation.

Daphne frequently responds to people’s words by saying, “Oh, I see” and, to be sure, she will see what is ultimately true. A Catholic, Spark nevertheless does not believe, as I do not, in eternal Hell. No doubt she does believe in divine judgment. Death, in any case, is liberation in what is perhaps a Catholic universalism in the superb “The Go-Away Bird.”

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