British director Tom Richards, the hero of Muriel Spark's new novel, is recovering after a nasty fall on the set of his current film project, The Hamburger Girl. But Tom isn't the only one in this witty, surprising novel who has suffered, or who is actively courting physical or psychic damage. Nearly all Tom's friends and relations are engaged in dicey, extramarital affairs. Most of the men have been fired from their jobs—"made redundant," as the English say. Tom's censorious, plain-looking daughter Marigold suddenly vanishes and is sighted in a variety of distant and exotic locales. A sniper shoots at the West Indian taxi driver who takes Tom on late-night cruises. And life begins to imitate (and ultimately outdo) the plots of Tom's most far-fetched and eccentric movies.
Like much of Spark's slyly comic fiction, Reality and Dreams takes place in an atmosphere of faint menace. It examines the peculiar and mystical connections between reality and fantasy, between life and art. Discerning readers should welcome this opportunity to hear a literary voice quite unlike any other writer's: elegant, wise, sympathetic, satiric—at once darkly sinister and brightly chipper. (Houghton Mifflin, $23)