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Story Review: The Ormolu Clock by Muriel Spark

The Ormolu Clock by Muriel Spark

The Ormolu Clock tells the story of two competing hotels in Austria, one owned by Herr Stroh and the other by Frau Lublonitsch. The narrator stays at the latter and gives as a description of these rival hotels. Frau Lublonitsch obviously has the edge over Herr Stroh. She is a very hands-on proprietor, even tending to the dirty pots and pans herself in a plain brown apron. One can imagine her as an austere middle-aged woman who has nothing better to do but work hard. The truth is, she doesn’t even need to work because she is rich. That’s the first mystery that the story presents.

The second mystery is the ormolu clock. What is ormolu? It’s a decorative gold gilding used to mount furniture and other equipment, in this case a clock. There sure is a symbol behind the object that takes the name of a story. It’s usually time. It is indeed one of them as one will realize at the last part of the story. Time encompasses everything, and we all are a slave to it. There is no escaping this incontrovertible truth.

The narrator gets a glimpse of this clock along with other decorative and luxurious furniture in the surprisingly opulent room of Frau Lublonitsch. That’s the third mystery: why would a simple-looking woman in drab clothes keep such a room? There’s a disconnect between the appearances of the bedroom and its owner. There seems to be something going on, and one could tell that once the narrator’s voice begins to have a tinge of fear.

Herr Stroh does something unacceptable to Frau Lublonitsch. As a punishment, she sends over the ormolu clock to him for a day, as if this object were the harbinger of death. I say punishment, not revenge, because Frau Lublonitsch is the embodiment of power in this story. She seems to be pulling strings of schemes under her apron, as if she were not the kind of person you would want to mess with. She will have her way and there doesn’t seem to be a way to deny that.

Themes of religion are also explored in this short story. Frau Lublonitsch is not a church person. Is the story making a commentary on spirituality’s relationship with success or power? If it does, it’s clear that they are inversely proportional.

Overall, this is an intriguing story. There are a lot of things unexplained but somehow, it’s better that they are left that way.

Listen to Joseph O’Neill reading this story at The New Yorker Fiction Podcast.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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