‘You Should Have Seen the Mess’ by Muriel Spark

I grew up in Edinburgh and so with Muriel Spark. I still like her short stories best: she seems to be to get bored with plots even in novellas. ‘You Should Have Seen the Mess’ was a favourite of mine at sixteen:  it’s about class, the artistic life, and untidiness – things which concern me still. A girl, her Edinburgh voice clear on every page – “we did not go to the full extent”, she says of sex – and trained like Spark, as a secretary, is taken out by an artist who we recognise as rich and talented, but she rejects him because he is not tidy enough for her. I always worried why the artist liked the tidy stupid girl though: I felt it didn’t bode well for me. (I was right.)

First published 1958. Collected in The Go-Away Bird and Other Stories and the Collected Short Stories (Canongate, 2011)

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