The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark


The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)




What a wickedly delightful novel. Who’d have expected it from a book about the devil?

Dougal Douglas, a Scot claiming to be one of the devil’s minions, shows up one day in the village of Peckham Rye. Insinuating himself into a carefully balanced society, he quickly but stealthily begins pulling strings and wreaking havoc. Squirming his way into the dubious position of an “artsy” man in charge of conducting a sociological study of the workers of not one but two factories – neither realizing he was employed by the other, as he’d managed to work out a deal in which he worked off-site in the village – he proceeds to encourage the employees to call in on Mondays.

Ironically, his job was to figure out why absenteeism was such a big problem. Why did he do it? Because being wicked is fun.


Other Books Published in 1960:

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

John Barth – The Sot-Weed Factor

Roald Dahl – Kiss Kiss

John Updike – Rabbit, Run

Flannery O’Connor – The Violent Bear it Away

Scott O’Dell – The Island of the Blue Dolphins

Nancy Mitford – Don’t Tell Alfred

Ian Fleming – For Your Eyes Only

Sylvia Plath – The Colossus and Other Poems

Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham


He meddles his way into the lives of several residents, sewing despair. One of his bosses, Mr. Druce, is having an affair with the head of the typing pool. Already a miserable man stuck in a loveless marriage and impossible other relationship rapidly crumbling, Dougal reduces him to tears. Later Druce will do something unspeakably awful, but I won’t spoil that.

So many sinister little details about Dougal Douglas, including the stumps of horns on his head he loves pointing out to people as proof he’s some sort of evil entity. Is he, or is he not? Spark never explicitly proves either way, but you have to wonder. He also sees into people and situation, knowing things there’s no way he could or should have. He claims second sight. Of this there seems little doubt.


“… Do you believe in the Devil?”


“Feel my head,”Dougal said.


“Feel these little bumps up here.” Dougal guided Humphrey’s hand among this curls at each side. “I had it done by a plastic surgeon,” Dougal said.


“He did an operation and took away the two horns.”

“You supposed to be the Devil, then?” Humphrey asked.

“No, on, no. I’m only supposed to be one of the wicked spirits that wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”


It goes on and on, the trail of broken lives and misery, until eventually he’s run out of town.

Literary Births & Deaths in 1960

Helen Fielding

Jeffrey Eugenides

Ian Rankin

Tim Winton

Neil Gaiman


Albert Camus

Nevil Schute

Zora Neale Hurston

Boris Pasternak

Richard Wright


Lady Chatterley’s Lover sells 200,000 copies in one day following its publication in the U.K. since being banned in 1928.


It is a very funny book, in a dark way. It sounds mean-spirited, and it is, but Spark is so deft and light with her touch it’s fun reading. It’s also complex, for such a short book. I wound up reading it twice, partly because I was having attention difficulties, partly because it’s so sneaky you can’t catch everything the first time around. I’d gladly read it a third time in future.

So far, this is my favorite of Spark’s novels in this celebratory read of all her books. Jean Brodie had been my fave previously. I’ll be interested to see how it holds up this time around.

Next up, The Bachelors (also 1960).

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