For many years before her death, Muriel Spark was widely considered to be the great British novelist of her time. "Almost certainly true," concurred the critic James Wood in an essay in 2000, "except that such a truth does not exactly redound to the credit of British fiction." He recalled her own claim that she wrote "minor novels deliberately", which in his view causes her books to read as mere “performances of containment". In other words, Spark could not be great, quite, because she had made it clear, over and over, that "greatness", with its attributes of girth, centrality, all-inclusiveness, was not a judgment that interested her. "Whatever is at stake for her is not quite to be found in the novel one is reading, but is somewhat to the side of it," Wood concluded.Jenny Turner quoting almost certainly the greatest British critic of his time not exactly redounding to the credit of British criticism. Adam Phillips as to why, indirectly:
One of the things Mendelsohn wants to acknowledge at the end of the book is that these lost relatives are not, and never were, fictional characters, even if the only life they can have now is in the memory and accounts of the living. In fact, he concludes, they may need to be rescued from the reconstructions they will now be victimised by. "There is so much that will always be impossible to know," he writes, "but we do know that they were, once, themselves, specific, the subjects of their own lives and deaths, and not simply puppets to be manipulated for the purposes of a good story, for the memoirs and magical-realist novels and movies."