“My moods are not stable at the best of times.”
In Muriel Spark’s Robinson, Catholic convert January Marlow, following a plane crash, wakes up with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder to find herself one of three survivors. The plane, “bound for the Azores,” crash-landed on Robinson’s island–middle-aged Robinson, who grows pomegranates, lives on this island with only a boy, Miguel, for company. Well there’s a cat, Bluebell, too.
The three survivors are January, Jimmy Waterford and Tom Wells. Strangely, relationships between these three were formed before the flight. January, partly to avoid Tom Wells, struck up a conversation with Jimmy. She immediately disliked the brash Mr Wells, a man who believes in the supernatural and produces an occult magazine called Your Future.
I find that, when travelling abroad alone, it is wise and actually discreet to take up with one well-chosen man on the journey. Otherwise, one is likely to be approached by numerous chance pesterers all along the line. One must, of course, discriminate, but it is a thing one learns by experience, how to know the sort of man who is not likely to press for further commitments
Coincidentally, Jimmy Waterford, who speaks in a sort of stilted patois, was traveling to see Robinson. Jimmy tells January “Robinson is not a man for the ladies. I know Robinson from the past.” January, for her part, senses in Robinson, “something more than indifference: a kind of armed neutrality.” She thinks “he could be positively hostile to the idea of women in general.” Perhaps this explains why she sets out to annoy Robinson as much as possible.
These three survivors must wait for the arrival of the next pomegranate boat in 3 months time. All of them have various injuries, but they all have various agendas which clash with Robinson’s way of running his island. Food is short and Tom Wells tries to grope January. Strong-willed and opinionated, January butts heads with Robinson–even employing the cat to irk Robinson. This is, after all, Robinson’s island, and January, Jimmy and Wells, are mere guests. They are welcome to Robinson’s library and food, and yet his rules are broken, buttons are pushed. Tensions run high, boredom sets in; like rats in a too-small cage, aggression emerges and then Robinson disappears. …
I liked parts of this book: the glimpses of January’s sharp side for example–the way she tells herself that if she steals Robinson’s rationed cigarettes, she won’t bear grudges. Then there are elusive glimpses of her prickly relationships with her two, very different, sisters. Julie married a bookie while Agnes married a doctor. While on the island, January wonders who will take care of her son, Brian, and (rather interestingly) hopes that it’s the bookie, Curly “the kindest” of all her relatives.
Of course, we can’t escape the image of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but here Spark gives us a sharper, darker view of what life would be like if people were plane-wrecked on an island. I liked Robinson but didn’t love it. I had the feeling that Spark wasn’t quite ready to unleash the darkness we see in The Driver’s Seat.