What a curious book. In terms of style, Muriel Spark's non-sequential narrative and extensive use of prolepsis, is unusual, and yet works well as Muriel Spark repeats the same themes and phrases. The book is also very simple to read and well written.
I thought it was refreshing to read about such a free thinking, idiosyncratic and rebellious woman working in a deeply traditional environment in an era where great store was still placed on conduct in the bourgeois world of a girls' school in the 1930s. Miss Brodie is unconventional and daring. Instead of following the curriculum of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, she treats her pupils as adults and discusses all manner of subjects which include her admiration for the emerging fascist leaders in Italy and Germany, her personal history, and her emotional life. Miss Brodie also invites her pupils to her home, and the home of other teachers, and takes them to the theatre and other outings.
Whilst initially appearing to have the welfare of her special students at heart, Miss Brodie's primary motivation appears to be to control and manipulate her pupils, and ultimately this is a disturbing portrait of a self-obsessed and psychologically disturbed teacher. This is the brilliance of the book, behind the rebellious and unorthodox teaching style which is cloaked in the benign appearance of taking special care of a small coterie of hand picked pupils, lies a monster. The revelations which emerge throughout the book would create a tabloid newspaper feeding frenzy if they came to light in the modern era. Not only does Miss Brodie appear to want to force her special pupils - The Brodie Set - to fulfil a destiny she has predetermined, she also has cast each girl into a tightly defined character. Muriel Spark constantly repeats these characteristics throughout the story, almost as if, like Miss Brodie, if she repeats them often enough they will become self-fulfilling. There are also other more amusing stylistic motifs that are frequently employed by Miss Brodie, for example, "you are the crème de la crème", and "I am in my prime". These help the reader to see through the Brodie character and hint at her self-delusion.
Whilst the book's primary focus is Miss Brodie we find out very little about her motivation. I think it's to Muriel Spark's credit that she leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, and yet I would be very interested to know the extent to which Muriel Spark is sympathetic to her literary creation. Ultimately that is the most puzzling thing about the book - on one level it's just a quirky story about a slightly weird teacher, on another more profound level I think Miss Brodie is meant to mirror her fascist leader heroes. Like Hitler, Miss Brodie employs slogans, charisma and mind control to subjugate a group and attempt to force them to comply with her own twisted agenda.
This is unusual, weird and very good. It's also very short and simple to read - it's well worth a couple of hours of your time.
After I read the book I came across this digested read of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by John Crace of The Guardian.
I thought is was hilarious and playfully captures the weirdness and spirit of this unusual book.