A choice excerpt from Muriel Spark’s first novel “The Comforters,” which was written after her conversion to Catholicism: “She always insisted that the book could not have been written without her conversion”; religion “had enabled her to write.” The book follows a fresh convert, Caroline, who here responds to a memory of the hoggish Mrs. Hogg — one of Spark’s “holy devils.”

[T]he memory of mealtimes at St Philumena’s returned, with the sight of Mrs Hogg chewing in rhythm with the reading from the Scriptures delivered in the sister’s refined modulations: ‘Beloved, let us love one another, love springs from God… If a man boasts of loving God, while he hates his own brother, he is a liar… the man who loves God must be one who loves his brother.’

Caroline thought, ‘The demands of the Christian religion are exorbitant, they are outrageous. Christians who don’t realize that from the start are not faithful. They are dishonest; their teachers are talking in their sleep. “Love one another…brethren, beloved…your brother, neighbours, love, love, love” — do they know what they are saying?’