Books: Decline and Fall?

THE TAKEOVER

by MURIEL SPARK 266 pages. Viking. $8.95.

For years it seemed that Novelist Muriel Spark had talent to burn. Then, in the late 1960s, a suspicion arose that burning was exactly what she had done with it. Gone was the somber exuberance of such earlier triumphs as Memento Mori, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means. The froth turned sour and her amused awareness of human daffiness was drowned in simple venom. The Abbess of Crewe (1974), Spark's deft parody of Watergate set in an English convent, gave reason to hope that all was not lost....