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The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Cover of The Ballad of Peckham Rye
The Ballad of Peckham Rye

The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the wickedly farcical fable of a blue-collar town turned upside down. When the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley hires Dougal Douglas (a.k.a. Douglas Dougal) to do "human research" into the private lives of its workforce, they are in no way prepared for the mayhem, mutiny, and murder he will stir up. In fact, this Music Man of the thoroughly modern corporation changes the lives of all the eccentric characters he meets, from Miss Merle Coverdale, head of the typing pool, to V.R. Druce, unsuspecting Managing Director. This is Dame Muriel Spark at her most devilishly piquant.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the wickedly farcical fable of a blue-collar town turned upside down. When the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley hires Dougal Douglas (a.k.a. Douglas Dougal) to do "human research" into the private lives of its workforce, they are in no way prepared for the mayhem, mutiny, and murder he will stir up. In fact, this Music Man of the thoroughly modern corporation changes the lives of all the eccentric characters he meets, from Miss Merle Coverdale, head of the typing pool, to V.R. Druce, unsuspecting Managing Director. This is Dame Muriel Spark at her most devilishly piquant.

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About the Author-
  • Muriel Spark (1918–2006) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was the author of over twenty novels, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, as well as critical biographies, radio plays, children's books, poetry, and short-story collections. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1993 and a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1996.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 31, 1999
    Touched with a Satanic glamour and a manner so disarming that grown men dissolve in tears at his slightest provocation, the Pied Piper of Spark's charming 1960 satire captivates the residents of Peckham, a small London suburb. Dougal Douglas is, like Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), a Scot. He comes to Peckham hoping to conduct "research" for an autobiography he's ghostwriting about an aging stage star, and succeeds in convincing the managers of two competing companies that he is researching worker productivity on their behalf. While he claims his investigation into the psychology of Peckham's hoi polloi will lead to lower rates of absenteeism, in fact Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, or Mr. Dougal-Douglas, as he variously calls himself) frolics around suggesting to the typists and engineers he chats up that they take every Monday off. In Peckham there are "classes within classes," and Spark's sharp portraits needle at the members of the "upper-working" and the "lower-middle" classes alike. There is prim Dixie, who practices an unattractive thrift with an eye toward furnishing her new bungalow when she gets married. Humphrey Place, Dixie's fianc , repeats union boilerplate with the conviction of an idiot. Miss Coverdale, the head of the typing pool, maintains her grim affair with her married employer because he gives her an allowance to keep up her flat. Douglas comes to have a great deal of influence in the town and his strange ways and antics earn him friends and foes in equal numbers. The drama of the novel--which most properly lies in the brilliant accuracy of Spark's spoofing--reaches its peak when Douglas is blackmailed by Dixie's 13-year-old stepbrother and the rumors of Douglas's identity (is he a spy? a police informant? the Devil himself?) lead to murderous hysteria. Witty and quite perfect in its construction, this light and mock-folkloric novel is the work of an inspired satirist.

  • AudioFile Magazine Spark's 1960 satirical novel is given a fresh reading by Nick Rawlinson. This is a curious novel, and Rawlinson's reading walks carefully between performance and narration. Most surprising is Rawlinson's protean ability to flip between Irish and Scottish accents. This is a challenging novel, as Spark allows the audience plenty of latitude in deciding on the true character of Dougal Douglas. Rawlinson's rapid delivery moves the story along quickly, sometimes too quickly for Spark's dry British wit to fully bloom. This recording is a fine introduction to the canon of Muriel Spark and stands on its own as an unusual but engaging piece of modern fiction. R.F. (c) AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine
  • John Updike, The New Yorker "We are never out of touch, in a Spark novel, with the happiness of creation; the sudden willful largesse of magic and wit, the cunning tautness of suspense."
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Muriel Spark
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