Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye
To kick off this blog series of books that stand out to me, I’m starting with the book that influenced and ultimately shaped my PhD thesis—The Ballad of Peckham Rye. Muriel Spark is an Edinburgh-born writer, probably best known worldwide for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
“You’re unnatural,” said Mr Weedin.
“All human beings who breathe are a bit unnatural,’ Dougal said. ‘If you try to be too natural, see where it gets you.”
Her 1960’s novel The Ballad of Peckham Rye takes place in Peckham, London when a mischievous Scot with red hair, a hump on his shoulder, and an Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh comes to town and creates chaos. This Scot is Dougal Douglas, and he’s one of my favorite, if not the top favorite, book characters of all time. The townsfolk of Peckham Rye are, in short, all assholes and Dougal’s behaves in such an outlandish way that you can’t tell if he’s being genuine or mocking them, though we all hope he’s mocking them. He keeps referring to himself as the Devil or one of the Devil’s minions. Devil or not, I’d rather hang out with him than the townsfolk of Peckham Rye. They won’t even do the Highland Fling with him!
I don’t want to give anything away, but I highly recommend this book. It’s short, as most of Spark’s books are, and at times so ridiculous that it’ll make you laugh.