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The Finishing School

3.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  822 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
From Muriel Spark, the grande dame of literary satire, comes this swift, deliciously witty tale of writerly ambition that recalls her beloved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.College Sunrise is a somewhat louche and vaguely disreputable finishing school located, for now, in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rowland Mahler and his wife, Nina, run the school as a way to support themselves ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Anchor (first published 2004)
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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna ClarkeThe Plot Against America by Philip RothCloud Atlas by David MitchellThe Inner Circle by T.C. BoyleThe News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck
2005 Tournament of Books
8th out of 16 books — 10 voters
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Best Books of 2004
88th out of 285 books — 139 voters

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Community Reviews

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The bookshelves constitute the review. Though I paid only $2.98 for this smug little nugget of crap, I'm tempted to sue the estate of Muriel Spark just on principle. The characters don't even rise to the level of caricature; they are stick figures that Dame Muriel pushes around her chessboard for a while. Until she can't be bothered anymore. The mystery is why she bothered at all. Surely she didn't need the money, and why would she choose to have this piece of mincingly clever dreck be her last ...more
Jul 01, 2010 Eileen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although I like Muriel Spark, I found this one lacking. It was certainly the thinnest of her books I've read; the page margins seemed much larger than an inch. I found the plot--Rowland, medium-skanky teacher "trying" to finish his "novel", is stupefyingly jealous of his prolific student, Chris--to be underdeveloped and not very interesting. The additional characters--rich, stupid students, Rowland's wife Nina, and a selection of servants who seem to be there only to illustrate class divisions-- ...more
Rowland and Nina Mahler both run College Sunshine, a travelling finishing school for the young and wealthy. Richard, who is trying to finish (and start) his novel, becomes obsessed with Chris, a 17-year-old student, whose own vaguely historical novel is showing far more progress and has attracted the attention of publishers. Stuff happens, though not much. Muriel Spark's last novel, already quite slender, is also rather thin, story-wise, and even flatter, when it comes to characters. But the lib ...more
Oct 12, 2010 Kwoomac rated it it was ok
Although a short book, it took me two days to read as I was not particularly drawn in by either the plot or the characters. While the novel was set in the present time, I did not feel like the author was able to recreate today's teens. They felt like kids back in the 50's to me.Naive, willing students, deferential to the adults. While there was some interesting tension between Rowland, a creative writing teacher, and Chris, his star pupil, it wasn't enough to carry the story.
This was kind of creepy and odd and I kind of liked it. It was written very objectively, in that there's almost zero emotion to be found in this book, despite it being about jealousy, loyalty and love. I liked Nina best of all (especially her lessons, which were fantastic), but felt that even though this was clearly set now, with all of the laptops and faxes, the characters felt like they belonged in the past - hippies, maybe? That could be part of the distance the reader has from all the charac ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Cynthia rated it it was ok
I was disappointed with this book. I've read severalother of Spark's books and liked them but this was boring. The plot failed to interest, the characters seem contrived. I don't think I'd even have forced myself to finish if this had been an unknown author.

I see from other reviews it wasn't just me. This was her last novel written when she was in her 80's.
Sara Williams
Book #2 of a 24h marathon on the 26th of April 2015

The book revolves around a small finishing school run by a married couple (who happen to be oblivious to this fact). There is a 17year old boy named Chris who is writing an exceptional novel and Mr. Rowland tends to get so jealous of this kid's ability to be sucessful that he is fine to go to great lenghts to stop him.
That's it. That's the story. 160 pages of pure bluntness. I wonder what went through Spark's head while publishing this because I
Sep 09, 2011 Karen rated it liked it
This was a strange little book. Parts of it were funny and held my attention, but there were too many characters for so few words, and I wasn't sure if this was supposed to be pure satire, or if there were deeper messages behind the story. There were some confusing sections, which may have been editing mistakes, where dialogue actually didn't make sense (was I missing something?) This actually sums up how I felt reading the book - that I was missing something. But somehow despite my reservations ...more
For me, this was reminiscent of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie only in that it took place at a school. In comparison, The Finishing School's characters are paper-thin, and although I occasionally found it amusing, I never found it absorbing.
Jan 09, 2013 Jonfaith rated it liked it
breezy and swift, though aside from its ascerbic humor it had lacked gravity. The Finishing School was a Murdochian sketch pushed forward slightly into realization. The time twisted totems of education and affection pull up short of Don't Stand So Close To Me.
Sep 29, 2010 Keely rated it it was ok
Anemic little book. I felt at first like whole paragraphs were missing and as it progressed like whole chapters were missing. Some snappy writing here and there with interesting observations but little else. No real sense of time and place. Could be 1960 could be 2005 except for allusions to emails. Actually the whole thing is like an allusion to a real novel.
Mar 20, 2008 Melanie rated it it was ok
A quick read, so worth a shot. Personally, the characters and the plot fell very flat - I found myself bored with everything that was going on. the characters were difficult to relate to, with very little emotional attachment assigned to anybody. I found this book was coldly written, more expositional than anything else.
Jun 20, 2014 Nancy rated it it was ok
I like Muriel Spark's quirky outlook and, after completing an earlier book, felt that "more was more" and the more I read the more I enjoyed her writing. But, this book set me off that course.

Instead of finding the situation and characters off-beat in THE FINISHING SCHOOL, I found them unsettling. Although this is a short book, I allowed myself to set the book aside, rather than running right through it. Spark is no doubt very gifted at setting a mood, but the mood is precisely what put me off.
Jan 10, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it
A quick but still enthralling read. Muriel Sparks captures the intensity and jealousy between student and teacher like no other writer I've encountered. Her school environments exist entirely in the grey zones of what is and isn't deemed appropriate.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is still her most successful exploration of the strange, precocious relationships that develop between student and mentor. It sets an incredibly high bar. The Finishing School is a solid book. If it were written by anoth
Jan 20, 2015 Nora rated it did not like it
This book is absurd.

The characters are ridiculous and the story seems to completely follow the author's whim, and not the actual story.

I am without words. I don't understand.
At this point I believe I am the problem. I can't see the artistry of the book. It's my fault.

This book is so bad, I became passive aggressive.
Kirsty Darbyshire
Feb 20, 2012 Kirsty Darbyshire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
Little more than a short story really. And while short stories have a habit of driving me bananas, possibly because they tend to come in books containing one good yarn and ten substandard ones, I enjoyed this standalone one. It's about the symbiotic relationship between aspiring novelist Rowland, currently running a anachronistic kind of modern day co-educational finishing school, and his student Chris, an actually-getting-on-with-it novelist, with a cast of other odd characters getting in the w ...more
Apr 26, 2015 Inaniel rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-gave-up-on
Maybe another time. This time it didn't get me.
Jul 17, 2014 Ann rated it did not like it

I have been wanting to read the work of Muriel Spark for some time, but I am afraid I picked an unfortunate one to start with.
"The Finishing School."
Strange. Too strange. What with it's unassuming title, matter of fact story telling, and psychological/demented subject matter, this novella is excessively odd.
I wanted to like it many times. It was bizarre. Amusing even. And yet, sometimes seemed to want to be a psychological thriller. It's not a comfortable story but one regarding obsession and
Jun 23, 2014 Mo rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Not recommended
Shelves: 0-hard-copy, w-mcl, 2014
2 1/2 stars

This was a bizarre little book. Quite frankly, I don’t even know what to think. It certainly was different, with a unique and interesting premise.


But different doesn’t necessarily equate to better. Sometimes different is just different. I was left feeling very dissatisfied, and would not recommend the book to any of my friends.
Feb 27, 2013 Ariadna73 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
This is a delicious story about a man that wants to be a successful writer; and a kid that is his student and is a very talented writer. The teacher starts feeling jealous of his student's talent; and soon becomes obsessed with him. In the end; nothing is what it looks like; and the story is so well written that one can read it in no time and ask oneself how can a 86 year old writer be so fresh and juvenile in her texts.
Isabel (kittiwake)
"When you finish at College Sunrise you should be really and truly finished," Nina told the girls. "Like the finish on a rare piece of furniture. Your jumped-up parents (may God preserve their bank accounts) will want to see something for their money."

I picked this up at the library earlier this week, as I like the author's books and haven't read this one before. It turns out that this was Muriel Spark's last novel and was published in 2004, so the characters have personal computers and watch Sk
What an odd, disjointed sort of novel. Written I think when Muriel Spark was in her 80s, it feels a lot like notes taken for a novel, which is in fact what one character does in the story. There are lots of little tangents and peripheral characters, all of which is interesting but kind of superficial. I did like it though.
Feb 01, 2016 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All of Spark's novels seem of a piece to me, although the plots are all different. A few months later I don't remember the specific story of any individual book unless reminded. And when reminded, the story pleasurably comes creeping back. A Spark novel is to be enjoyed in the moment, to be impressed with her sharp wit and keen observation. It's almost as if the story is beside the point, simply a vehicle to display her immense skills. There always is a story, tho she rarely bothers to tie up al ...more
Apr 25, 2011 KJ rated it did not like it
This was pretty awful but as usual I finished it just so that I could be sure. I felt like I was a publisher or a literary agent reading a really crappy submission from someone who just wanted very badly to finish writing a damn novel.
Shae Seagraves
Jun 01, 2015 Shae Seagraves rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is odd, strange, weird, whatever you want to call it, but isn't that what jealousy is? It feels disjointed, nonsensical, and something that you just can't quite seem to put your finger on but the writing perfectly illustrates the actuality of human obsession and envy. As an outsider you just want to shake Rowland out of his trance, something that Rowland can't do for himself. I liked how Chris and Rowland's fueled one another into an unannounced competition. Spark's writing was reminis ...more
Sep 17, 2011 sharon rated it liked it
Interesting quick read-I like her characters.
Nov 18, 2015 Ape rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
2008 bookcrossing musings: I started this one pretty much as soon as I got it and I've already finished it. It is a fantastic book!

It's set in a Finishing School called College Sunrise, that moves around Europe and is a little bohemian. It's run by Rowland and Nina, and only has about 10 teenage pupils. It's just supposed to be a job/money-earner for Rowland whilst he writes his novel.

In comes Chris, a red-headed, 17 year old student, who announces he is writing a novel. His youth and arrogance
Re-reviewing this book because I think I was unfairly comparing it thematically to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A satirical study of envy, competition and co-dependence, this book deals with more subtle mental and moral problems than TPMJ. It is a much snarkier book than the other and one in which, Spark definitely uses her belief in authorial control. Besides the blow by blow development of envy, I enjoyed the book's subtle critique of the 'nuveau riche' and their haphazard accumulation of kn ...more
Khris Sellin
Jan 24, 2013 Khris Sellin rated it really liked it
A quick, fun read. This was Muriel Spark's last book.

Rowland and Nina are a young married couple who have started a finishing school called College Sunrise, for rich parents to send their kids off to before university, to become "finished" ("Polished off?" as one young woman refers to it). It's become sort of a mobile college. They started out in Brussels, then moved it to Vienna, and now have set up in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Rowland teaches creative writing at the college. He's been working on
Oct 19, 2012 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
A mention in James Wood's How Fiction Works prompted me to pick up a couple Sparks from the library. Of course the mention was of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but that wasn't on the shelves. Instead I got The Finishing School, which turned out to be her last novel. She was in her mid 80s when she wrote it.

Does that mean it's a fuddy-duddy prim tale of old-fashioned people fighting to teach the kids (the kids these days!) how to be prim and old-fashioned? Hardly. Rowland and Nina run "College S
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Dame Muriel Spark, DBE was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Spark received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the Ingersoll Foundation TS Eli
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