In Aiding and Abetting, the doyenne of literary satire has written a wickedly amusing and subversive novel around the true-crime case of one of England's most notorious uppercrust scoundrels and the "aiders and abetters" who kept him on the loose.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark
The receptionist looked tinier than ever as she showed the tall, tall Englishman into the studio of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, the psychiatrist who had come from Bavaria, then Prague, Dresden, Avila, Marseilles, then London, and now settled in Paris.
"I have come to consult you," he said, "because I have no peace of mind. Twenty-five years ago I sold my soul to the Devil." The Englishman spoke in a very foreign French.
"Would you feel easier," she said, "if we spoke in English I am an English speaker of a sort since I was a student."
"Far easier," he said, "although, in a sense, it makes the reality more distressing. What I have to tell you is an English story."
Dr. Wolf's therapeutic methods had been perfected by herself. They had made her virtually the most successful psychiatrist in Paris, or at least the most sought-after. At the same time she was tentatively copied; those who tried to do so generally failed. The method alone did not suffice. Her personality was needed as well.
What she did for the most part was talk about herself throughout the first three sessions, turning only casually on the problems of her patients; then, gradually, in an offhand way she would induce them to begin to discuss themselves. Some patients, angered, did not return after the first or at least second session, conducted on these lines. Others remonstrated, "Don't you want to hear about my problem "
"No, quite frankly, I don't very much."
Many, fascinated, returned to her studio and it was they who, so it was widely claimed, reaped their reward. By now her method was famous and even studied in the universities. The Wolf method.
"I sold my soul to the Devil."
"Once in my life," she said, "I had a chance to do that. Only I wasn't offered enough. Let me tell you about it . . ."
He had heard that she would do just this. The friend who had recommended her to him, a priest who had been through her hands during a troubled period, told him, "She advised me not to try to pray. She advised me to shut up and listen. Read the Gospel, she said. Jesus is praying to you for sympathy. You have to see his point of view, what he had to put up with. Listen, don't talk. Read the Bible. Take it in. God is talking, not you."
Her new patient sat still and listened, luxuriating in the expenditure of money which he would have found impossible only three weeks ago. For twenty-five years, since he was struck down in England by a disaster, he had been a furtive fugitive, always precariously beholden to his friends, his many friends, but still, playing the role of benefactors, their numbers diminishing. Three weeks ago his nickname Lucky had become a solidified fact. He was lucky. He had in fact discovered some money waiting for him on the death of one of his main aiders and abetters. It had been locked in a safe, waiting for him to turn up. He could afford to have a conscience. He could now consult at leisure one of the most expensive and most highly recommended psychiatrists in Paris. "You have to listen to her, she makes you listen, first of all," they said "they" being at least four people. He sat blissfully in his smart clothes and listened. He sat before her desk in a leather chair with arms; he lounged. It was strange how so many people of the past had been under the impression he had already collected the money left for him in a special account. Even his benefactor's wife had not known about its existence.
He might, in fact, have been anybody. But she arranged for the money to be handed over without a question. His name was Lucky and lucky he was indeed.
But money did not last. He gambled greatly.