Read The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark Online


Like the May of Teck Club itself, "three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit," the young women of London after WWII do their best to act as if the world were back to normal: practicing elocution, jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. Chosen by Anthony Burgess as one of the Best Modern Novels in the Sunday Times of London, The Girls of SLike the May of Teck Club itself, "three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit," the young women of London after WWII do their best to act as if the world were back to normal: practicing elocution, jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. Chosen by Anthony Burgess as one of the Best Modern Novels in the Sunday Times of London, The Girls of Slender Means is a taut and eerily perfect novel by an author The New York Times has called "one of this century's finest creators of comic-metaphysical entertainment."...

Title : The Girls of Slender Means
Author :
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ISBN : 9780333067048
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 176 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Girls of Slender Means Reviews

  • Lisa
    2019-05-17 09:19

    “Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions.”After a glorious first sentence like that, how could Mrs Spark fail to deliver her usual sparkling cocktail of absurd every-day business, chaotic lifestyles and abrupt drama? Her story is set in the direct aftermath of the Second World War, allowing for exceptions. It concerns the lives of a charming set of young and not so young ladies living together in a building in London which has survived the bombing, but which is haunted by the myth of a bomb dropped there without exploding, some years ago. Most girls are happily carefree and perfectly unengaged in the political developments of the time, even though the life-altering moments in history are mentioned in short sub-clauses every now and then: the capture of Ribbentrop, the dropping of the atomic bomb, Churchill’s speeches, Labour’s election success, the ruinous state of London.Those are merely descriptions serving as backdrop to the girls’ real issues. Of importance are lovers, jobs, diets, fattening nutrition, who gets to wear the “good dress”, and who is able to sneak out through the window to have secret meetings on the roof. That is a question of exact hip measurements, and the girls of slender hips have a definitive advantage compared to those who only are of slender means. Mrs Spark wouldn’t be her own drastic self if she didn’t prove that in the most dramatic way possible, detonating an old bomb in the garden and setting fire to the house in the process. While she is at it, she is happily driving a joyful libertin young man to religious delusions as a longterm effect as well - causing his untimely death much later as a martyred missionary in Haiti, where he tries to recover from his shock by forcing his religion upon the unwilling native population. This storyline is told in a strange mix of flashbacks and future gossip.Whatever she does, she does with a spark, Mrs Spark, not allowing for exceptions.Is there a meaning in all this reading delight? Not necessarily, but how much meaning was there to be had at that moment in time, when the city of London looked like a tourist site for ancient ruins, and food rationing was still very much an issue to be discussed, to the point of becoming a fashion statement:“Beer was served in jam-jars, which was an affectation of the highest order, since jam-jars were at that time in shorter supply than glasses and mugs.”Hers is a world between deep loss and superficial entertainment, between distress and destruction and human capacity to adapt to circumstances and find positive aspects in any situation. Hers is a world of transition and versatility and of a remix of the two songs “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, and “It’s My Party, and I Cry If I Want To” merged into one loud party karaoke version.There is no safety in Muriel Spark’s universe, but she thoroughly enjoys the wild ride without seat belts, taking The Driver's Seat!Love her, more and more with every book I try! But for those of you with a soft spot for the main characters in novels: Muriel Spark doesn’t treat them very well.

  • Paul
    2019-05-25 08:00

    Spark at her best; acerbic, bitingly funny, satirical, unsettling, great use of language, numerous interesting and well-crafted characters, layers of meaning and it captures a moment of social history to boot. It captures the brief period of 1945 between VE day and VJ day, a period of three to four months. The novel (well novella really) centres on the May of Teck Club in Kensington. The club is“for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London”It is written from a later perspective (1963) by one of the girls from the club, Jane Wright. She is prompted to look back by the death of Nicholas Farringdon, who in 1945 was an anarchist, but had become a Jesuit priest. He has been martyred in Haiti and now his writings from 1945 are suddenly of interest. Spark introduces him to the reader in her own inimitable way;“We come now to Nicholas Farringdon in his thirty-third year. He was said to be an anarchist. No one at the May of Teck Club took this seriously as he looked quite normal: that is to say, he looked slightly dissipated, like the disappointing son of a good English family that he was.”One of the strengths Spark has is her characterization and this novel is no exception; even the minor characters are well drawn and some of Spark’s descriptions are really sharp. For example the warden of the club who “drove a car as she would have driven a man had she possessed one”. Spark employs the trick of muddling the chronology and she gives away bits of the plot as she goes along, using an omniscient third person. Although on the surface the dialogue and plot can appear shallow and rather inconsequential, there are layers of meaning and there is also an impending sense of threat. It will come as no surprise to regular Spark readers that farce turns into tragedy. The word Slender in the title has a double meaning. As well as meaning financially limited, it refers to the toilet window on one of the upper floors. The slimmer (slender) girls are able to get out of this window onto the roof. The roof was accessible to the building next door which was being rented by the Americans and amorous assignations were open to those slim enough to get through. It also plays a pivotal role at the end of the book. The layers of meaning are also fun. The religious connections are clear (Spark was a Catholic, though not a dogmatic one). One of the pivotal characters is Joanna Childe (her in initials are no coincidence; a female Christ figure!) an elocution teacher. Throughout most of the book you overhear her reciting to her pupils (usually The Wreck of the Deutschland, a poem by a priest, Hopkins, about a group of drowning nuns). There is a Satan figure (not obvious at first); the Paul figure is easier to spot. The role of the Schiaparelli dress is also fun to contemplate; a posh frock owned by one of the girls, but lent out for dates. The tragedy towards the end of the book is surprising, but not unexpected. However, at the very end of the book during the VJ day celebrations there is an act of violence perpetrated by a man on a woman (neither characters in the book) that is so shocking and surprising that it hits the reader almost physically. Spark is saying; ok so we have peace, it’s all over, but is the world a better place? Will things be better?It’s a great novel by in my opinion, one of the better writers of the twentieth century. It’s a snapshot of a bygone time, a spiritual novel with a comic tone that becomes ever bleaker and almost gothic. Spark was admired by her contemporaries. Evelyn Waugh wrote to her and said;“'Most novelists find there is one kind of book they can write (particularly humorous novelists) and go on doing it with variations until death. You seem to have an inexhaustible source”As William Boyd said; “We are in the hands of a great artist: the experience is both unsettling and exhilarating”. I heartily agree.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-06-12 10:20

    You know how it is with a Murial Spark book, you start off reading ' oh this is so witty, my fingers are getting singed from her sparky humour' that you don't notice her sliding the knife in until she chooses to twist it.I am a little in awe of her restraint, having spent a week reading one book then I breeze through this - if you started after lunch you need not fear being late to dinner. She's an awfully economical writer, the references to ration books and calorie counting could well apply to her own style. Her own story telling is so parred down that the mention of a young woman's unshaven leg comes as a shock - surely everything in Spark's world would be razored.On the other hand I do feel a little led up and down the garden path, as by the end it is one hundred and forty pages (view spoiler)[ the exact number many vary by edition (hide spoiler)] of a Christian shaggy dog story: JC trapped in a burning building as one of thirteen leading lives of apostolic poverty - the one way out is not through the eye of a needle but a narrow bathroom window, the thirteen are not camels but young women, some more slender than others, a couple even sufficiently slender to slip out on to the neighbouring flat roof, of the others, pregnancy due to wholehearted celebration of VE day (view spoiler)[ for some I imagine Victory over Europe day was unfortunately Victory über Deutschland day instead(hide spoiler)] renders the narrow window impossible as a means of potential escape. One of the girls however goes back, not in solidarity nor to help one of her fellows, but to grab the one designer dress that all the girls of slender means lodging in the May of Teck Club have been sharing, if later she hangs herself Spark holds back from telling us...If one had a thoroughly Christian education one could perhaps read it and pull it apart like an alter painting, but I was spared such a thing and read it purely for Muriel's terrible wit.

  • BrokenTune
    2019-06-09 08:05

    What an odd story. What an odd composition.Told mostly in flashbacks, The Girls of Slender Means tells of a group of girls who share lodgings at a home for women under 30 who have limited means of income. The story is mostly set during the summer of 1945 - between the end of the war in Europe and in the Far East. As a snap-shot of the time that the story is set in, this books works wonderfully well. Spark had a gift for preserving details in the pages of her books that other authors may have have left out in favour of prolonged dialogue or inner monologue. Not so with Spark - her details bring to life both the characters and the atmosphere that frame the plot. Well, the little plot there is. There is a plot, but it struck me that the development of the plot seemed to counteract the development of the characters - the more likeable or "human" the characters became, the more it seemed that the plot of the book tried to make them suffer - as in, first Spark got us to care fore the characters and then she throws in our face that the characters were surrounded by a world of horribleness. Like a vanity painting that reminds us that nothing lasts and that all snap shots only depict a certain angle. While Spark's writing is impressive, I could not help but compare The Girls of Slender Means with the other two books of hers that I have read - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry From Kensington. The Girls almost read like a sequel to Miss Jean Brodie but I think this is exactly where it didn't work for me - it was too similar not to make comparisons and I couldn't enjoy it as an independent story quite as much.

  • Mark
    2019-05-23 09:56

    ' Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions'.As with every Spark novel, it is the exceptions which make all the difference. This is a great novel. All Sparkian life is here. Odd characters, noble losers, tragic deaths and sinister naughtiness. The eponymous girls live in the May of Teck club; An up-market boarding house for young women too poor to thrive in flats by themselves, too refined to slum it and with a couple of our 'heroines', one too selfless to survive and one too selfish to care. Its not a novel jam-packed full with action but of the uncovering of character by one momentous event. Everything leads to it and its effect resounds on and on into the hoped for future of peace. The novel begins with VE day and ends with VJ day but there is an action observed on the last page of the novel, small in its reporting, unnoticed by all but one character and Spark uses this to remnds us that peace, if it is to mean anything has to be more than just an absence of war.

  • Teresa
    2019-06-11 13:04

    This is quintessential Spark. Though there's no teacher-figure (only a few impotent spinsters), the action is set in a young women's lodging house that feels like a boarding school a la The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. In the future of the main action, there are telephone calls informing of a death that reminded me of Memento Mori. Spark's snideness, sarcasm, black humor and wit are here, including observations on religion and sex, related in innuendos and also bluntly. Repetition and a circling around the characters and events are also here, until we arrive at the gripping climax: though confusing in the beginning, it proved to be a brilliant structuring. The climax is what turned a 3-star book for me into a 4; and I think with a reread, that could turn into a 5, especially if I were more familiar with the Hopkins poem that seems to be at the center of this novel. The title is perfect, expanding into greater meaning as the book, slender though it may be, goes on.

  • Madeline
    2019-06-04 07:17

    A stirring, beautiful novel that's deceptively short and light, and starts with what is now one of my favorite opening paragraphs in all literature:"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. The streets of the cities were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity. Some bomb-ripped buildings looked like the ruins of ancient castles until, at a closer view, the wallpapers of various quite normal rooms would be visible, room above room, exposed, as on a stage, with one wall missing; sometimes a lavatory chain would dangle over nothing from a fourth- or fifth-floor ceiling; most of all the staircases survived, like a new art-form, leading up and up to an unspecified destination that made unusual demands on the mind's eye. All the nice people were poor; at least, that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit."The story centers around the May of Teck Club, a boarding house for single young women working in London, and the lives of the women living there as they try to rebuild their lives after World War II. The girls do their best to resume some normalcy, trading clothing coupons, trying to maintain their diets despite limited food options, and sharing the one good dress in the club whenever one of them has a fancy date. In just 142 pages, Muriel Spark presents a large cast of characters, all fully-realized and dimensional and flawed, and it's frankly kind of amazing how much story she manages to fit into such a short book. For the majority it's just a light, fluffy novel of girls dating and having petty fights and chasing various men, like Sex and the City if it were set in post-war London and all the girls were poor and not horrible. It's deceptive lightness, though, because the ending is emotional and shattering, and I won't go into any more detail than that because it shouldn't be spoiled. If you were underwhelmed by Spark's other book on The List, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I recommend giving her another chance here. You won't be disappointed.

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-06-08 10:14

    This tiny feather-light novel is like a love-song to a very specific time, April to July 1945, and place, London, a girls' hostel, located just behind Kensington Gardens, such that you can see the Albert Memorial if you shove your head out of one of the third floor windows and crane your neck. So there's all these girls, thrown around by the war, that's why they're in a hostel, working for some ministry or another probably, all poor, mostly middle-class, one of whom is - well, fast, and also there's this guy, a jackass would be anarchist-poet who hangs around, but not such a jackass, as he gets to shag Selina, and have Sunday lunches with the girls. It's all rather fetching in a BBC historical drama sort of way (do you think we could get Helena Bonham-Carter?), except that there's not much of a tune. But if exact unexpected and beautifully-captured precisely-this-time-and-no-other type detail is what you love, then yes.English niceness with a soupcon of stark-ish horror.

  • Dhanaraj Rajan
    2019-05-26 07:13

    Review for this book can be written in many ways. It would all depend on the aspect that the reader tries to focus on. Otherwise, it is a typical Spark - witty, satiric and completely engaging.I was very much struck by the theme of Faith and Conversion in this novel. As you all must be aware, most of Spark's novels deal with Catholicism/Christian faith. It is not very conspicuous but each novel in one way or other puts forward a opinion of Spark on religion. In fact, a person can very well miss the importance of Faith as the theme in this novel. Everything depends on the reader.It may serve a better review for those who have read the novel already.&&&&&&&&& THERE MAY BE SPOILERS &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&So I was struck by the theme Faith and Conversion. This is very much made visible in the characters of Joanna Childe and Nicholas Farringdon.Let me state my reasons:Joanna Childe is introduced as a person who believes in "a desirable order of life." Later while narrating her biography, we learn that she had fallen in love with a person once 'which had come to nothing.' But that was her first and only love. For she believed in 'the notion that a nice girl should only fall in love once in her life.' Spark quotes a Shakespearean quote here to consolidate her point. This is the quote: "Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds,/ Or bends with the remover to remove:"Now, observe the fact that she was a 'daughter of a country rector' and who was religious. Read the Shakespearean quote now, replacing the word LOVE with FAITH. Connect it with the fact of Joanna's desirability for the order in life. Faith cannot be replaced with secular ideas. If done, it would result in disorder.Now, consider the backdrop of this novel. It is set in 1945 and in the war ravaged city of London. Everywhere there is destruction. The reason is, man's sin. This is not obvious. She does not say explicitly. But, we get the point (or at least I got it like that.) Read this passage of the book that happens to be some 20 pages after the above said information. "You notice his words, that he says the world has fallen from grace? This is the reason that he is no anarchist, by the way. They chuck him out when he talks like a son of the Pope. This man is a mess that he calls himself an anarchist; the anarchists do not make all that talk of original sin, so forth; they permit only anti-social tendencies, unethical conduct, so forth." I have highlighted the passage to emphasize the point that I received from observing the references.Later, in the gripping final chapters, we see Joanna caught in a house that is on fire along with some other girls. The men come for rescue. Before they could be rescued, when everyone is in distress, Joanna recites the Psalm. The quote: "Except the Lord build the house: their labour is but lost that build it./ Except the Lord keep the city: the watchman waketh but in vain." Consider the fact that the house is on fire because a bomb (that was dropped during war and remained unexploded and hidden in the garden) goes off.When finally the help arrives, she is the last one to be rescued. She lets others to escape first. And when she makes the escape the building collapses and she dies. Later, we hear a comment that Joanna was always afraid of Hell. Earlier in the biographical sketch of Joanna (2nd Chapter), we were already informed that she preferred to enter the Heaven a maimed person that the Hell a complete person.She saw the war ravaged world (that had forgotten God) as Hell and the next life a Salvation.Seeing the last moments of Joanna and the girls trapped in the burning house, Nicholas Farringdon, a man who loves earthly life and earthly passions, turns into a priest. He ends up a missionary in Haiti.A powerful novel. The final chapters change the ordinary story into an extraordinary one. A Re-Read would be all the more rewarding. I read it already two times.My Word: Go for it.....

  • Alex
    2019-06-16 11:16

    It's the summer of 1945 and there is or isn't an unexploded bomb in the garden of the May of Teck Club, a rooming house for girls of slender means. Jane is in love with the anarchist poet Nick Farrington, or not, but of course he (as an anarchist poet) is hapless in every way and ends up sleeping with hot asshole Selena Redwood on the roof. How does she get on the roof, you ask. It doesn't matter how he gets on the roof but it matters how she does. There's a very narrow window. Only the girls with the slenderest of means can get through the window. If you're close you can take off your clothes and rub butter all over your body. It might work.Here's Muriel Spark looking skeptical, which I bet is how she looked a lot of the timeI mean she was Scottish anywayIt all sounds like a comedy, and Muriel Spark often does. The Guardian mentions "the light, light, light novel that Muriel Spark holds like a balancing shadow under her deadly serious work of art." "Deadly serious works of art" is a wonderful way to describe what she's producing - well, I'm not entirely sure about Memento Mori - but with the exception of The Driver's Seat, she's almost inscrutably arch about it all. Not an ingratiating writer, Spark. A remarkably varied one. Evelyn Waugh said in a letter to her, "Most novelists find there is one kind of book they can write… and go on doing it with variations until death. You seem to have an inexhaustible source." This is my fourth book by her and I keep getting confused. Every time - this is my fourth of her books, on my way to all of them because she's one of my favorite writers - every time, I have to figure out what world she's assuming this time. This is a world where not everyone fits through the window, and in the end it's not just about who gets to fuck that idiot poet.

  • Chrissie
    2019-05-20 07:21

    Haven’t read Muriel Spark? Read her.This novella is about a handful of girls residing at the May of Teck Club, a boarding-house "for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London". We follow the girls, their work and their beaux. “Slender Means” signifies the girls’ financial standing, their prospects and plans for the future and, hopefully, also their body size; escape was by a narrow slit of a window up on the fourth floor. They share soap, face cream, and chocolate and an irresistibly stunning Schiaparelli gown. They are naïve and daring and unsure, each pondering their raison d'être. The setting is Kensington in 1945. The war may be over, but is not forgotten and continues to affect their lives.This is the central story, but it is told in flashbacks. One of the characters is in 1963 looking back, in an attempt to come to grips with the death of another.There is both tragedy and humor in this book. And Spark makes you think. So what was Spark saying (view spoiler)[when Joanna dies reciting the poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” by Gerard Manley Hopkins? The poem depicts the shipwreck of the SS Deutschland and is dedicated to the five Franciscan nuns onboard who died (hide spoiler)].Spark’s writing is witty, without sentimentality and often having religious content, but never in an over-powering way. Usually there is a mystery or a puzzle is to be solved. Pitch perfect dialogs. Many characters that you think you will not be able to keep straight, but you always do. I am describing this book and her others. Juliet Stevenson, the audiobook’s narrator, is an artist of her trade. The narration was fantastic. Definitely a five-star narration. I have given the book only three stars for the simple reason that I find it too short. There is just not enough to bite into. Spark’s books do not have deep character portrayal; I could do with more of that, but then it would not be Spark.********************In order of preference, the last two being equal:A Far Cry from Kensington 5 starsThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 3 starsThe Girls of Slender Means 3 starsMemento Mori 3 starsThe Bachelors 3 stars

  • Bettie☯
    2019-06-14 09:54

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • Deborah Biancotti
    2019-05-26 07:13

    This book really grew on me. Spark's deceptively cool tone lulled me into an early misperception that nothing was going on in this almost-post-war-Britain tale. Plus the sixties-style verbs used to describe women as 'chattering', 'twittering' and 'gobbling' made me uncomfortable. And then there was protagonist, the mercurial Jane whose affectation of describing her menial job as 'brain work' & her constant striving to "feed my brain" without becoming fat on wartime rations was, to be honest, kind of pathetic.That's the irritating stuff. On the awesome side, the story is a non-chronological account of a poet, Nicholas Farraday, when a) he meets the eponymous girls, and b) just after he's assassinated in Haiti for preaching Catholicism to unwilling Haitians. The point of pitting these two sides of the story together is to explore what moved Farraday from anarchy to Catholicism, & the dramatic ending of the book of course does that. But I'm not convinced I agree with the prevailing wisdom on the meaning of the ending - or rather, where the meaning lies most directly. In fact, I was so stumped by the ending that I turned back to the beginning & spent a day re-reading the entire book. And I'm STILL not sure I agree with the popular interpretation of the ending.On the ending: (view spoiler)[popular wisdom (i.e. Google) claims that the conversion of Nicholas to evangelism comes from the moment Selina walks through the crowd of trapped girls in the upstairs bathroom, carrying the dress she's stolen. On the roof, she asks him, 'Is it safe here?' and he crosses himself. Later he goes to see her and she screams, unable to speak. And then he meets her husband, a lovely chap. And it seems the story of Selina has received a happy ending, though the dress is never returned to its owner. In a way & as a sideline, I came to see the dress as the God of the girls of slender means: their most precious thing within the strictures of a country driven to poverty by war. In that world, the dress is something shared and bartered. According to Wisdom, it is this act - stealing the dress - that converts Nicholas. A single act of evil. But I'm not convinced that's it. And maybe I'm being foolish, maybe Spark has done hundreds of interviews where she asserts yes, it really is because of the theft of the dress. But to my mind the act isn't evil *enough*. It could just as easily be explained as the act of a mind that's come unhinged by the events that are rapidly leading to the death of the pious and sad Joanna (a woman who's martyred herself for love, who is so ashamed at her own fickleness when she transfers her love from a man who doesn't love her to one that does, that she winds up refusing to love any others. And so she spends her life in the menial poverty of the girls of slender means, dying because she is just not slender enough, and because the thought of meeting the almighty has so rattled her she can't even make her escape when a path is offered her). After the death and the theft and the destruction of the building where the girls lived in their "unselfconscious attitudes of poverty", Nicholas accompanies Jane and Rudi to the celebrations of the end of the war. It's here Nicholas sees a sailor stab a woman in the stomach. The crowd is so dense that she can't even fall, but is held upright while, we assume, she bleeds (to her death?). Nicholas tries to shout but his voice is also lost in the crowd and soon enough they're pulled apart, Nicholas from the dreadful tableau of the murderous sailor. When he finds himself up against the sailor again later, he takes a forged letter from his pocket - a letter Jane wrote for him, declaring his genius and signed as if from a fellow writer - and he shoves that letter down the sailor's shirt.I've chased back and forth across the book for other word of that sailor, some other sign of the letter showing up after Nicholas dies. I haven't found it, and yet the scene is so resonant I think it must mean *something*. I think, in fact, it's this which is the 'small moment of evil' that converts Nicholas. In the middle of a celebration, a recently-returned sailor - we assume - murders his partner & stays around to enjoy the party. Life, it seems, never does get precious not even after a war. I began to wonder just how many sailors and soldiers had returned with that darkness in them, and what darkness was held at bay by the May of Teck building where the girls lived that precious, fragile existence. I wondered what other risks were taken in the name of 'security', apart from blocking the fire escape in the May of Teck building to keep men out (or girls in - as it would, so tragically, by the end). I wondered if Nicholas had looked at this scene and seen a kind of descent and figured he was better off away from 'civilisation' and all its trappings, in a place where he could wish for ascent instead. But, heck, I could be wrong and maybe it is all about the stupid dress.(hide spoiler)]Powerful, humorous & sparse, this is a slender volume of some magnificence.

  • R.
    2019-05-23 08:20

    A frothy black-comic novella about a group of young ladies living and loving in London...only until it hits you that, no, it's more: it's a retelling of the Gospels inside a girls dorm. Spark couldn't have been more blatant: the [Spoiler Alert] one girl that perishes in the housefire - the one who remains the most selflessly calm, recites scripture and measures the hips of herself and her thirteen trapped companions - was named Joanna Childe. And from there I'm not really going out on a limb to suggest:Selina Redwood is Old Scratch Herself. Like Joanna, S.R. remains relatively calm throughout the apocalyptic emergency: the fire in the garden and the fall of their fragile postwar paradise. But, unlike J.C., she is more than slinky-slithery enough to climb in and out of the lavatory window twice: once to demonstrate (flaunt) ease of escape, and the second time to salvage the house's shared Schiaparelli dress. Yes, even as her housemates choke on smoke and await salvation (firemen hacking away at a bricked-off skylight) it's all about the dress. When Nicholas Farringdon - the alpha male of this twisted tale and Redwood's part-time lover - sees Selina later the encounter leaves her disenchanted. A bit on the cold side you might say: "She screamed. She couldn't stop screaming. It's a nervous reaction." A nervous reaction, or I give you that screaming is Satan's only sane reaction to being in the presence of the converted. The newly spotless. The lost-but-now-found. Because Farringdon is the stand-in here for Paul the Apostle. Fancies himself a dandy rogue, a poet and an anarchist. But after the disaster he joins The Catholic Order and departs from London to spread The Good Word.

  • Sahar Khoshghadam
    2019-05-20 10:55

    از خودم شرمنده ام برای کتابی هزینه و وقت گذاشتم که صفحاتش پر بود از کلمات پیردختر و ترشیده، کاش انتشارات نگاه در چاپ چنین ترجمه هایی کمی دقت به خرج می داد.

  • James Barker
    2019-06-14 12:16

    It’s 1945 and the time between the two armistices of the war and in the Mary of Teck Club, a glorified hostel for girls of slender means in Kensington, a well-flagged tragedy is waiting to strike. Just as in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ Sparks captures perfectly a world of women filled with malice and fast friendships with her delicious, trademark wit. Typically this involves a non-linear story, Sparks’ expertise with analepsis and prolepsis and deceptively shallow portrayals of her characters that actually penetrate to the heart. The recklessness of the time- after war had been won in Europe but was still being fought in distant Asia- is demonstrated in a myriad of ways, from the easy virtues of the young (and most slender) girls to a harrowing scene of violence recorded in the midst of the VJ celebrations. Sparks’ recognition of the heartlessness in humanity is tempered by the gentility of the finest girls.But who are these girls of slender means? There is the stunning sash of a girl, Selina, with her impossibly long legs. She dates a married American soldier as well as the poet Nicholas and owns the Schiaparelli dress that does the rounds of the other girls in return for their ration coupons.Then there is Joanne, who teaches elocution lessons to private tutees. Her passionate renditions of poems and psalms reverberate through the hostel and the novel itself.And there is, to throw a spotlight on just one more of the girls, Jane, who recognises the seriousness of the publishing world in which she works but, as a sideline, writes to famous authors (Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway) a pack of lies in the hope of receiving a signed letter from which her nefarious partner in crime hopes to profit.For anarchist poet Nicholas Farringdon the girls' world is a beautiful microcosm of the possibilities of a new order. He has visions of a new society based on the tenets this sorority holds dear. But there is slender chance of that.

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-06-04 12:15


  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-06-10 06:15

    London, just after the second world war. Basic necessities are scarce, food and clothes are being rationed. Somewhere in the city there is an old residential building turned into a dormitory which was spared from the Nazi bombings. Here is found the May of Teck Club and its first of the Rules of Constitution explains what it is:"The May of Teck Club exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London."The May of Teck Club, in other words, is a cheap dormitory in London for working girls below 30 years of age who have very little money ["of slender means":]. With different characters and personal circumstances, I had more enjoyment reading this book than when I watched the two Bridget Jones movies. Reading this was, indeed, very much like watching a movie but with the added bonus of Muriel Spark's never boring prose. Maybe a sample is in order. Brief backgrounder on the characters involved in this particular scene:Selina - the beauty at the May of Teck Club. Quite a playgirl [she has a hilarious scene towards the end when the building was on fire and about to collapse:];Felix/the Colonel - married to Gareth [not a May of Teck resident:] and having an affair with Selina;Jane - another girl at the May of Teck Club, works for a publisher, and has literary pretentions;Rudi Bittesch - a publisher, Jane's boss;Nicholas - a handsome cad [Hugh Grant would be perfect for the role, if in a movie:], thinks of himself as a good poet/writer but isn't really so. Submitted a novel to Rudi Bittesch for publication and got acquianted with Jane. Jane, in turn, showed him off at the May of Teck club where Selina met him.Scene: Jane, Felix, Selina and Nicholas decided to take an outing using Felix's car:"He [Felix:] was about thirty-two. He was one of Selina's weak men. His weakness was an overwhelming fear of his wife, so that he took great pains not to be taken unawares in bed with Selina on their country week-ends, even although his wife was in California. As he locked the door of the bedroom Felix would say, very worried, 'I wouldn't like to hurt Gareth,' or some such thing. The first time he did this Selina looked through the bathroom door; tall and beautiful with wide eyes, she looked at Felix to see what was the matter with him. He was still anxious and tried the door again. On the late Sunday mornings, when the bed was already uncomfortable with breakfast crumbs, he would sometimes fall into a muse and be far away. He might then say, 'I hope there's no way Gareth could come by knowledge of this hideout.' And so he was one of those who did not want to possess Selina entirely; and being beautiful and liable to provoke possessiveness, she found this all right provided the man was attractive to sleep with and be out with, and was a good dancer. Felix was blond with an appearance of reserved nobility which he must have inherited. He seldom said anything very humorous, but was willing to be gay. On this Sunday afternoon in the May of Teck Club he proposed to drive to Richmond, which was a long way by car from Knightsbridge in those days when petrol was so scarce that nobody went driving for pleasure except in an American's car, in the vague mistaken notion that their vehicles were supplied by 'American' oil, and so were not subject to the conscience of British austerity or the reproachful question about the necessity of the journey displayed at all places of public transport."Jane, observing Selina's long glance of perfect balance and equanimity resting upon Nicholas, immediately foresaw that she would be disposed in the front seat with Felix while Selina stepped, with her arch-footed poise, into the back, where Nicholas would join her; and she foresaw that this arrangement would come about with effortless elegance. She had no objection to Felix, but she could not hope to win him for herself, having nothing to offer a man like Felix. She felt she had a certain something, though small, to offer Nicholas, this being her literary and brain-work side which Selina lacked. It was in fact a misunderstanding of Nicholas--she vaguely thought of him as a more attractive rudi Bittesch--to imagine he would receive more pleasure and reassurance from a literary girl than simply a girl. It was the girl in Jane that had moved him to kiss her at the party; she might have gone further with Nicholas without her literary leanings. This was a mistake she continued to make in her relations with men, inferring from her own preference for men of books and literature their preference for women of the same business. And it never really occurred to her that literary men, if they like women at all, do not want literary women but girls."But Jane was presently proved right in her prediciton about the seating arrangements in the car; and it was her repeated accuracy of intuition in such particulars as these which gave her confidence in her later career as a prophetic gossip-columnist."A prose that can force you to smile. I look forward to reading other Muriel Spark novels!

  • Kats
    2019-05-20 06:13

    Having enjoyed "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" immensely many years ago, I was delighted when this Spark novel/la was chosen for the December book group meeting. Unfortunately, having finished reading it today, it left me cold, sometimes I was plain bored and at other times I didn't understand what was going on because of the switching back between 1945 and some time in the early 60s. There were way too many quotations, poems etc for my liking, and they distracted from what little plot there was. Given the brevity of the book, there were also an awful lot of characters to become acquainted with; I found it tricky to tell them apart and in addition didn't find myself invested in them because there wasn't really enough time to even start caring. Disappointing. Admittedly, I have been reading about four other books alongside this one (most of the others much more engrossing), but how on earth did I miss the *murder* that other reviewers here have mentioned? WTH?? There was a murder in this book?? Well, I didn't even get that - how embarrassing! Perhaps I need to read it again now and get a bit more out of it?!

  • Greg
    2019-06-09 05:20

    I recently read this author's "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and I liked it so much (4-star rating) I was eager to read more by Muriel Spark. To me, this short book, more novella than novel, feels like a snapshot of a certain time and of a certain group of people. Granted, it's a good snapshot, a very clear and distinct one, but it's like being at a photography exhibit: I'm ready to move on to the next photograph, and when I leave the exhibit, "The Girls of Slender Means" will have left a rather small impression.

  • Anna
    2019-06-13 08:04

    I am slightly disappointed with the girls of slender means….The scene for the novel is set brilliantly by the following: ”Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions” and who wouldn’t be charmed by that? Specially followed by description of the efter-war London with bomb-ripped buildings that looked like ruins of ancient castles and this matter of fact statement: ”There was absolutely no point in feeling depressed about the scene, it would have been like feeling depressed about the Grand Canyon or some event of the earth outside everybody’s scope.” I thought I was hooked, and my expectations were high. So I listened to the story (another mastery performance by Juliet Stevenson), of lives and times of the poor but industrious young women sharing an accomodation in the May of Teck Club.”The May of Teck Club exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London”….The story is short so whatever impression of it one is supposed to have it it’d better appear fast. I enjoyed the reading voice, I enjoyed the language and writing and I feel the story had a certain charm, and what it is that I did not enjoy, I really don’t know, but I just failed to engage. Apparently I also need to feel something towards the characters, and in this case…. I neither hated them, nor loved them, I just didn't care. They seemed to me just too foolish and juvenile. The brain-work didn’t amuse, the measuring routine didn't fascinate the relationships didn’t interest. It is as if I somehow tuned in into a wrong frequency. I could hear the words but I just couldn’t appreciate all that was there.

  • Judy
    2019-05-24 10:07

    I can always count on Muriel Spark to cheer me up. "Comic-metaphysical entertainment" indeed. I have now read seven novels by this Scottish born writer and have only scratched the surface of her work. She wrote 24 of them before she died in 2006 at 88 years of age.These mildly impoverished female survivors of WWII live in an old boarding house in London, surrounded by bomb wreckage. Ages vary and even within the building there is a class hierarchy because it is, after all, Great Britain in the postwar world. Rationing is still a hard burden and they are all single but mostly looking for loveWhile keeping their chins up, they hold the general feeling that "all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions." Except none of them are all that nice and every one holds wounds of one sort or another, mostly emotional ones.Why did reading this short novel cheer me up? Because we all harbor certain wounds and life is never certain, but it is entertaining to have a look at how others in another city and country, another century, deal with theirs. Their petty squabbles, their determination to carry on, even the violent ending, made me feel less alone.

  • Lucy Somerhalder
    2019-06-03 11:22

    Ugh, I love Muriel. She has a fantastic way of casually making serious young men look utterly ridiculous.

  • Barbara
    2019-06-15 06:15

    I feel a crush coming on. Muriel Spark, or her spirit, and I are about to become very good friends. I've just finished "The Girls of Slender Means", having read it at leisure, but with great care and tremendous pleasure. What a joy it is, and how renewing, to be reminded that the short, perfectly constructed novel can satisfy so fully. Although slender in size, this small book--in comparison to today's overly-wrought and often boringly-padded fiction-- is rich in sardonic observation, fulsome in empathy, and beautifully balanced between the quotidian and the monumental. A droll narrator, with keen and witty insights, leads us through a hostel for young women of genteel poverty, circa 1945, when London was in ruins and young and old were beginning to put the pieces of their lives back together. I would rave more, but I would be keeping myself from my next literary sweetmeat: Sparks's "The Ballad of Peckham Rye", which is sending alluring signals from my beside table.Read this. You will be so glad. It will make you belief in fiction again.

  • Marc
    2019-05-17 09:56

    London, in 1945, the summer after the end of the war. Spark focuses on a group of young women that are trying to make the best of it, both in everyday's life (everything is rationed) and in the battle for a man. They live in a house for "underprivileged" girls, to be understood in several senses. This short story meanders back and forth several times between 1945 and a not determined later period (early 60s?). As always Spark is incredibly accurate in her drawing, but to my feeling much harder, more cynical and pessimistic than usual. Mankind, in this case the "world of women" is not attractive. The story also contains a clear Graham Greene touch: just as in "The End of the Affair" there's a collapse of a building by a war bomb, a black and white moral picture, and an anarchist poet who converts to Catholicism). There's very much in this package, but it did not really convince.

  • Tabuyo
    2019-06-08 06:17

    Un libro corto y sin argumento que se me hizo bastante largo. Mi primer acercamiento a Muriel Spark no ha sido muy bueno, espero elegir mejor la próxima vez.

  • JacquiWine
    2019-06-08 07:01

    Last year I read and really enjoyed Muriel Spark’s 1959 novel Memento Mori, a darkly comic exploration of ageing and mortality. In the hope of building on this positive experience, I recently turned to another of her early works, the wonderfully titled The Girls of Slender Means. Luckily for me, it turned out to be a great success. It’s a mercurial novel. Deceptively light at first sight, there are some genuine elements of darkness lurking just beneath the surface, all of which come together to make it a really interesting and surprising read.Set mostly in the summer of 1945, The Girls of Slender Means centres on the May of Teck Club in Kensington, a hostel for the ‘Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.’To read my review, please visit:

  • Pascale
    2019-06-14 06:17

    Like most people, I count this as one of Spark's best. The narrative goes back and forth between the present, i.e. the early '60s, and the past, a period of a few months in the Spring and Summer of 1945. It starts with fat Jane making a series of phone calls to various former friends and associates in order to find out what they remember of Nicholas Farringdon, a writer with anarchist leanings she found fascinating, back in 1945. Jane has just found out that Nicholas, who had become a missionary, has died a martyr's death in Haiti, and she is desperate to elucidate the circumstances of this unpredictable turn of events. Alas, most people hardly remember Nicholas, or blithely assume he got his just deserts, so that Jane gets nowhere, and the mystery of Farringdon's destiny remains intact, highlighting 2 of the themes of the book: the random cruelty of history and the isolation of the individual. Jane is flummoxed to find out how completely Nicholas has been forgotten, given that he was present during a dramatic incident that saw her residence, the May of Teck Club for Ladies of Slender Means, blown up by an unexploded bomb. The destruction of the building forms the climax of the book, and claims the life of Joanna, a clergyman's daughter too plump to escape through the only window available to her. Joanna's death is subtly put in parallel with the destruction of Hiroshima which takes place around the same time. Nicholas, who was quite attracted to Joanna, although he was sleeping with another May of Teck resident, the scheming Selina, is distraught when he finds that a recording he had made of Joanna's voice has been erased by mistake, and even more distraught that Joanna's father couldn't care less. The events of 1945 are bracketed by 2 evenings of popular rejoicing that are anything but joyful: "On a summer night during the previous week the whole club, forty-odd women, with any young men who might happen to have called that evening, had gone like swift migrants into the dark cool air of the park, crossing its wide acres as the crow flies in the direction of Buckingham Palace, there to express themselves along with the rest of London on the victory in the war with Germany. They clung to each other in twos and threes, fearful of being trampled. When separated, they clung to, and were clung to by, the nearest person. They became members of a wave of the sea, they surged and sang until, at every half-hour interval, a light flooded the tiny distant balcony of the Palace and four small straight digits appeared upon it: the King, the Queen, and the two Princesses. The royal family raised their rights arms, their hands fluttered as in a slight breeze, they were three candles in uniform and one in the recognizable fur-trimmed folds of the civilian queen in wartime. (…) Greggie observed that it was something like a wedding and a funeral on a world scale." A similar scene at the end of the book is even more nightmarish since Nicholas observes a sailor taking advantage of the crowd to kill his wife/girlfriend with a knife, and is unable to rescue the victim or alert anybody to the crime. A great novel that bears reading and re-reading.

  • Heather
    2019-05-30 10:56

    What happens when girls of slender means get in a tight spot? At first I was hesitant and thought Muriel Sparks was narrating in a chatty Brit Aunt style, which I dislike. However, as I read on, I found I enjoyed her darker/cynical comments and found the atmosphere humorous. Especially with the first scenes about the window and found it quite amusing and loved the play on words with the title being used. It was a somber turn of events that altered my mood. It was also two shocking incidences of violence that opened up the text for me. Despite V for Victory, and celebrations en masse, an individuals’ action can cause greater reaction in a person when witnessed first-hand. The British response to bombing and war time seemed objectified with a stiff upper lip manner and rationing was met with ‘good and hardy cheer,’ yet when faced with random violence for which there seems to be no originating cause Nicholas reacts strongly.(view spoiler)[The tight spot for one young woman stabbed by her significant other in a ‘celebratory,’ crowd is when she appears to be buoyed by the masses, as though symbolically she were a ‘trapped’ sacrifice for the hordes of humanity at its highest. (hide spoiler)]Was Sparks actually commenting on the fact that when humankind is not occupied with war outside a nation that they turn back inward and find reasons for violence much closer to home?The Girls of Slender Means, has elements of tragi-comedy and I am left considering to what purpose this style was used given the underlying context I have uncovered. I am very curious to read more Sparks, to follow this thread. 4

  • Kerry
    2019-06-04 05:16

    I'm sorry, but my brain clearly just isn't wired for this kind of book.I heard it discussed on the BBC Radio 4 podcast, A Good Read, I thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to request it from the library and see for myself.I don't get it.I don't see the point, I don't care about any of the people, I don't understand any of their motivations. Either it was too oblique or I'm too stupid, but I have absolutely no idea what I was supposed to get out of this book.It just totally and absolutely failed for me. The 5 is a generous rating, because I can see that there is probably a lot of "it's not you, it's me" about my reaction, given the author's reputation and the comments everyone made on the podcast. Really, by immediate reaction was 4/10.I shall have to relisten to the podcast now to see if I can figure out any of what I missed.