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The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
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The Girls of Slender Means (original 1963; edition 1963)

by Muriel Spark

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1,2815614,152 (3.65)230
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"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions..." Thus begins Muriel Spark's tragic and rapier-witted portrait of a London ladies' hostel just emerging from the shadow of World War II. Like the May of Teck Club building itself‚??"three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit"‚??its lady inhabitants do their best to act as if the world were back to normal, practicing elocution and jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. But the novel's harrowing ending reveals that the girls' giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragically painful war wounds… (more)

Member:Helenliz
Title:The Girls of Slender Means
Authors:Muriel Spark
Info:London : Macmillan & Co, 1963.
Collections:Just added, Currently reading
Rating:
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The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark (1963)

  1. 12
    An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel (KayCliff)
  2. 01
    Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (shaunie)
    shaunie: Two very short books set in wartime, both packed with meaning despite their length!
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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
This short novel presents us with a slice of life in bombed out London shortly after the end of World War II for a group of young women living at the May of Teck Club, a sort of boarding home for "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 lives of Jane Wright, who is fat, but does "brainwork," Anne Baberton, owner of the Schiaparelli gown shared among the girls, Joanna Childe, teacher of elocution, Selena Redwood, "the only woman present who could afford to loll, the three spinsters, Collie, Greggie, and Jarvis's, and several others. There is a "before and after" in this book, and the story alternates between the two. Spark's writing is witty and precise--the bombed out houses were like "giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity," and the book conveys a great sense of time and place. I liked this book very much.

4 stars

First line: "Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions."
Last line: "Nicholas marveled at her stamina, recalling her in this image years later in the country of his death--how she stood, sturdy and bare-legged on the dark grass, occupied with her hair--as if this was an image of all the May of Teck establishment in its meek, unselfconscious attitudes of poverty, long ago in 1945. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Feb 1, 2023 |
Earlier this year I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brody and fell in love with Muriel Spark's writing. So, when I had the chance to read this one, The Girls of Slender Means, I jumped at it. The characters and writing were all I had hoped for. However, to be honest I still prefer The Prime of Miss Jean Brody and if you're only going to read one book by this author, I'd recommend that one.

Recommend for fans of the author or classics in general. ( )
  paroof | Dec 20, 2022 |
Book club read. On first read disappointed. On second reading (and in daytime when less tired) I got more from it. Well crafted. ( )
  simbaandjessie | Oct 8, 2022 |
In 1945, between the VE day and VJ day celebrations, the girls of slender means who reside at the May of Teck Club in London, opposite the Albert Memorial, generally had one of two things on their minds: boys, for pleasure or as prospective husbands, and food, for brain work. And throughout such pursuits there was the ever-present need of an equanimity of body and mind, as poise is perfect balance. Into their lives stumbles Nicholas Farringdon, who, years later would lose his life in Haiti, a martyr to his own obnoxious interference in local practices, though at this point in time he thought himself an anarchist who nevertheless had a high regard for the royal family. His tragic end, which might actually have been comic, was preceded way back in 1945 by a more tragic ending, a loss of both innocence and fine elocution.

Muriel Spark is in high comic form here, both bitingly acerbic and bawdily frank. But it is the flittering anxiety of purpose, whether spiritual or profane, that permeates this club of genteel poverty which holds our interest. As Spark moves amongst the many inhabitants, of whom we rarely gain more than a sketch, she reveals both their weaknesses and their strength. None more so than Jane, who is not slender herself, but who observes all her slender peers and busies herself with brain work in the world of books. The result is a delightful comic presentation of a world which, most probably, was already a distant memory when Spark chose to capture it.

Recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 21, 2021 |
A story of a group of girls that inhabit a London boardinghouse established for the benefit of poor young women in the economically precarious, slightly surreal days that followed the end of the Second World War. Spark sets forth the details of their romantic entanglements, their financial position, and their outlook on the future with remarkable economy, making the Princess of Tek seem a bit like a female, twentieth century version of the Pequod. Her prose here is also just terrific: sharp, acid, and so unerringly straight -- if just on the surface -- that it qulifies as genuinely ironic throughout. Her descriptions of bombed-out postwar London are similarly observant, as are her observations of the girls' values, which are rapidly losing the color of youth and growing into cutthroat middle-class conservatism. Sharp forms a lot of these characters with remarkable care, but she isn't too gentle with any of them.

The problem I had with "The Girls of Slender Means" is that Nicholas Farringdon, the book's male counterpoint, isn't really a strong enough -- or defined enough -- character to hold the book together. After his death, there's a bit of a reveal, similar to the magnificent denouement at the end of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." But unless I'm missing something -- and I may be -- it's well-done but not quite enough. It is, admittedly, wonderful to see how Spark can tell you exactly the way her characters end up without coming close to losing your interest, which might be the mark of a really great writer. This one left me wanting a bit more, but it's still highly recommended to the author's fans, and to fans of sharp, satirical writing in general. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Sep 6, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Sparkprimary authorall editionscalculated
Croxford, RobertCover photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goring, RosemaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, A. L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
may, nadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pariser, VanCover photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, AlanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vranken, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions..." Thus begins Muriel Spark's tragic and rapier-witted portrait of a London ladies' hostel just emerging from the shadow of World War II. Like the May of Teck Club building itself‚??"three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit"‚??its lady inhabitants do their best to act as if the world were back to normal, practicing elocution and jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. But the novel's harrowing ending reveals that the girls' giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragically painful war wounds

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