Spark’s The Only Problem recapitulates the sub-plot of Kierkegaard’s Repetition, in which a young man withdraws from society to study the Book of Job. Spark’s central character, Harvey Gotham, is writing a book about Job but finds that his life repeats aspects of Job’s when his wife is accused of being part of a terrorist organisation that police believe Harvey to be funding. Police interrogation becomes equivalent to Job’s confrontation with his ‘comforters’. Harvey, however, has discovered the image of his wife in a painting of Job’s wife completed hundreds of years previously, making repetition central to the structure of the novel. Spark regularly turns repetition into a formal principle that undermines temporal sequence by relating the same event or repeating the same words on a variety of occasions in her stories and novels. Thus her Symposium, with its discussion of the nature of modern love, recalls Plato’s Symposium, but is also a repetition of Kierkegaard’s restaging of Plato in his Stages on Life’s Way. It is a theme taken up in The Takeover, a novel which dramatizes the fact that it has become impossible to distinguish between the real and its many artful repetitions.
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