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?