Book Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark

Harper Perennial Modern Classics

160 pages

**My review does contain minor spoilers which are related early on in the book.

Miss Jean Brodie is in her prime.  She is actually a teacher in her prime and she has a select group of students (Rose, Monica, Sandy, Mary, Eunice and Jenny) that are known as the Brodie set.  Miss Brodie’s teaching style is quite different from that of other teachers at the school and she is content with telling stories to her class and reciting poetry.  Mathematics and science seem to fall by the wayside as Miss Brodie “teaches” only what pleases her.

The reader is told early on that one of the Brodie set betrays Miss Brodie, which causes her to be terminated from her employment.  The book switched back and forth between present day and the girl’s school days, being not only their days with Miss Brodie but also their later learning in junior and senior school.  Meanwhile, you also have a love triangle between Miss Brodie, Mr Lowther the music teacher and Mr Lloyd, the one armed art teacher.  The Brodie set is intrigues with this development, as they are hitting that age when sexuality is becoming very curious.  Miss Brodie, of course, encourages this and goes so far as to include the girls in her personal life.

The character of Jean Brodie, in and of itself, was artfully composed.  She was fun to discover as the pages went on.  Some of her methods I actually quite liked, but I never knew what to make of her and I am not sorry to say I relished in her comeuppance.  As for the rest of the characters, they were so poorly drawn that I had trouble telling them apart.  Some of them, such as Monica, were mentioned so infrequently that I really did not get any sense of idea who she was.  Even characters that came more to the forefront, such as Rose and Sandy, were never explained.  Because of that, everyone except Miss Mackay and Miss Brodie were completely unknown to me.  I find it difficult to connect with a book when the characters fail to elicit any type of response from me.

Overall, I think it was the style of the book that killed it for me.  I don’t mind that the narrative wasn’t chronological.  It was just the way Spark seemed to haphazardly throw everything in.  There was no structure or foundation.  Although that often seems to be a well lauded way of writing, it never does it for me.  I pretty much knew after the first few pages that this book was not a good fit for me, but I wanted so badly to like it that I forged ahead with it anyway.

I am going to be completely honest—I would not have even finished this book had it not been so short.  It was that excruciating.  Ultimately, the last 5-10 pages were very worthwhile and made me very reflective, so I guess the book was redeemed a bit in the end.  Not enough to make up for the torture I endured reading the rest of it, but it was a small consolation.

Other Reviews:

The Literate Housewife

Age 30+ . . . A Lifetime of Books

Books Please

A Life in Books

I purchased this book from Half Price Books.

This book counts towards the Women Unbound challenge.

9 Responses

  1. So sorry that you had such a bad experience with this! It has always been one of my favourites.

  2. Oh, I’ve got this out of the library and had been quite looking forward to it. Looks like I’ll have to revise my expectations. =(

  3. I have wanted to read this one for a while. It’s good to know what I’ll be getting into! I’ll brace myself.

  4. But DO get the movie! It is one of those that is better than the book and Maggie Smith is awesome as Miss Brodie. I also think (all of this is my opinion, of course) that the movie is enchanced by having read the book. The fashions are cool, too.

  5. I completely understand what you mean about this book – I was so sure it was one what I would love, and I found myself pretty perplexed by it and not really enjoying it at all. I felt the story was a bit slapdash and things were perhaps not linked as strongly as I might have liked. I think this is one I might re-read, simply because I feel like I must have missed something the first time around!

  6. I knew this was made into a movie and I wonder if that would work better than the book. Sounds almost like “Dead Poet’s Society” but with a woman teacher.

  7. Not sure if I would like this or not?? I am leaning toward NOT for some reason? Thanks for your feedback.

  8. I still haven’t read any Muriel Spark and am not sure where to start…I’m now thinking not this one!

  9. […] Club, Steph and Tony Investigate, Vulpes Libris, Leeswammes, A Damned Conjuror Starts Lecturing, Reviews by Lola, Literate Housewife, Age 30+.. A Lifetime of Books, Jen and the Pen, Bibliographing, Booking in […]

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