The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark

After I was looking for novella’s the other day I was quite shocked to note that I hadn’t read a book by Muriel Spark since 2007 and my pre-blogging days in fact I was introduced to her by Novel Insights in both or pre-blogging days and Aiding & Abetting was a choice for our old book group. It surprised me I had left it this long as I really enjoy her writing and so after having read a few larger books thought I would go for a short Spark next.

The Girls of Slender Means tells the stories of several young women in the year of 1945 living in The May of Teck Club (pretty much a hostel) near Kensington Gardens. The girls are all working as clerks or secretaries and living on rations, clothing coupons and hand outs from admiring men. Through each on of the girls in the book Spark looks at the morals and plotting of such a group of women in both a comic and sometimes shocking way.

We have Joanna a rectors daughter who shockingly fell for a rector herself before coming to London and teaching elocution lessons, Greggie, Jarvie and Collie the old maids of the building, Pauline Fox a mad young lady who believes she dines with the actor Jack Buchanan every night, Jane Wright who works in a publisher and gets authors to write letters signed she can sell on the black market and yet who doesn’t know Henry James is dead and Selina a woman of loose morals who sleeps with weak men but pursues strong ones for marriage partners she wont sleep with yet. All of them will become more unified and torn apart though not only when Nicholas Farringdon a charming author turns up, but when a shocking (I gasped) event leads to one girls fatal end (I gasped again).

I must mention one of my favourite characters who doesn’t actually appear in the book very often but whom every time I saw her name on the page I knew I would smile. This was Dorothy Markham who was a wonderful character, and shows how even small background characters are incredibly well drawn in Spark’s world, a debutante who came out with lines like ‘Filthy lunch’, ‘I’m absolutely filthington’, ‘I’m desperately well thanks, how are you?’ and the one which made me laugh out loud ‘Filthy luck. I’m preggers. Come to the wedding.’

This was my first read in the November Novella challenge I decided to take on and what a fabulous one.Showing an interesting insight into women of a certain class during the late stages of the war this book would make for a wonderful part in women studies, fictional women of course though with characters this alive you wonder if Spark may well have known them in her lifetime. The writing is sparse yet punchy and full of life and a delightful hour or two whizzed by in the company of the girls of slender means.

I am now wondering which Spark I should bump up my reading list. I have already enjoyed ‘Aiding and Abetting’ and ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ so where to next. I think that ‘Memento Mori’ may well be my next port of call on the Spark Trail. What would you recommend? Are you a Muriel Spark fan?



Filed under Muriel Spark, Penguin Books, Review

31 responses to “The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark

  1. I have only read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and absolutely loved it…this review has whet my appetite for more and I will be looking out for this one to read! Thanks Simon!

  2. You must read Prime of Miss Jean Brodie! Virago have republished 4 of her books as Modern Classics (not PoMJB though sadly) and I will be having a Muriel Spark week next week on my Virago blog! I have A far cry from Kensington in my handbag today.

    • Oh Verity have you been skim reading???? Hahahaha I have read TPoMJB already along with Aiding and Abetting which I loved.

      • Hehe, oops, yes – I don’t know how I missed that as I saw that you had read Aiding and Abetting! Doh! I think I was emphasising that that is the best. I can recommend A far cry though as I read it last night. Loitering with intent is in the handbag today!

  3. fleurfisher

    Another vote here for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and there’s another very good school-set book among her late work – The Finishing School. And the Driver’s Seat is quite extraordinary – and very short!

  4. novelinsights

    Hahaha, am I a fan? Yes you know I am 🙂 So glad you liked this. I can’t rememeber, is Dorothy the one who looks fabulous in the Schiaparelli dress? I did this at uni on a random lit course I managed to squish into my history studies and I was enlightened to know that ‘slender means’ is supposed to also refer to their moral ‘means’ as well as their limited finances…

    Prime is brilliant and I definitely think you will like Momento Mori too. I am determined to convert you to loving Spark as much as Daphers!!

    • I dont think I will ever love Spark as much as Daphers but maybe you never know. I of course know you adore Muriel.

      It’s Selina who looks fabulous in the Schiaparelli dress but actually they all do at some point though Selina the most in the end ha!

  5. I haven’t read any Muriel Spark. I have a few here in the stacks, so might try one now I’ve heard good things about her. Thank you for drawing her to my attention!

  6. Well, as you know, I quite like Miss Sparks.

    I really enjoyed Aiding & Abetting when I read it several years ago.

    A couple of weekend’s ago I read A Far Cry From Kensington and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! (Yes, I am shouting!) It was one of those lovely new hardcover Viragos that Verity refers to — and the reading experience was just as much about the lovely feel of the book as its content.

    Have several other Sparks in the queue and look forward to reading them at some point.

    • I have A Far Cry From Kensington so maybe that will be the next read instead of Memento Mori, will have to see which one grabs me when next feel in the Sparkish mood.

      I actually think Aiding and Abetting is my favourite so far! Look forward to whatever you read next.

  7. I love Muriel Spark but haven’t read this one so thanks, Simon, for reassuring me that it is also wonderful.

    I am a close reader so I see that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one that you HAVE read ;). I echo fleurfisher in saying that The Driver’s Seat is exceptional. I didn’t love A Far Cry from Kensington but it is enjoyable; I preferred Loitering with Intent, which is very amusing. The re-issues by Virago are fabulously designed and I’ve posted about them in the past. I’m looking forward to reading The Comforters next, which was Spark’s debut novel.

    • Hahahaha I have made a comment (in good humour) to the skim readers, outraged hahahaha.

      They have The Drivers Seat at the library so when next in will get it. Loitering with Intent sounds brilliant from its title alone.

      I wonder how her debut will do with you. I shall keep my eyes peeled for your thoughts.

  8. I love everything Spark writes, but if you haven’t read these, they are fantastic and all so different.

    The Public Image (shortlisted for the Booker)
    The Driver’s Seat
    The Finishing School

  9. This sounds really good. I have not read this author but sounds like I need to!

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  11. Thanks – I mentioned your review in my Morning Meandering post today and linked back to you. 🙂

    I will check this author out.

  12. Eva

    I’ve never read Muriel Spark before, but you’ve convinced me to give her a try! 🙂 I loved the movie version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

  13. Heidi

    I enjoy reading your blog and read it often (lurking not commenting). I haven’t looked at your blog in a few weeks and added four books already to my TBR list!

    I have only read one of Muriel Spark’s books so far. It is Memento Mori and it is one of my favorite books I read this year. Funny and yet tragic tale (how does she pull that off in her writing) of aging with keen psychological observation on her part. All the characters lives are interwoven so well. I hear the movie is wonderful too and hope to see it (Maggie Smith is in it so how can it be bad).

    • Hi Heidi thank you very much for commenting and not lurking hahaha. Nice to see your adding books to your TBR makes me think mine isnt quite so bad though actually it is.

      I have never seen the movies of any of Sparks work but I might have to have a fest. Memento Mori will be my next Sparks read for definate.

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