The Girls of Slender Means
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The Girls of Slender Means

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,859 ratings  ·  150 reviews
Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions, begins The Girls of Slender Means, Dame 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 itself -- three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit -- its lady inhabitants do th...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 17th 1998 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published 1963)
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' 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 t...more
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 anc...more
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. There's Spark's snideness, sarcasm, black humor and wit, including observations on religion and sex related in innuendos and also bluntly. There's repetition and a circ...more
Nov 19, 2013 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
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 the...more
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...more
Deborah Biancotti
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,...more
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...more
Barbara A
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...more
Muriel Spark was a brilliant writer. Her novels are generally short but extremely dense with incident and feeling. They are simultaneously mainstream tales but also experimental works. Spark plays with time and viewpoints and the result is both strongly emotional and intellectually satisfying. A few years ago I read The Driver's Seat and thought it was a minor masterpiece. But this novel is as good, or perhaps even better.

The atmosphere of London in the immediate aftermath of WWII is here evoked...more
the girls of slender means, my first muriel spark read, didn't bowl me over. i like her style, and the opening chapter led me to believe i'd really like this novel, however for such a short book it really felt long, and sometimes tedious. the highlight were the wonderful scenes involving the squeezing through a bathroom window. i spoke to adrian, who put me onto her, and he gave me grief for choosing this as my first muriel spark. so now i will seek out the prime of miss jean brodie, the driver'...more
Erik Simon
Boy I love this book. It starts out as one of those charming British tales about life during the war and ends with the most astonishing murder I've ever read in fiction. The murder left me horrified and speechless. Spark was such a taut, elegant writer.
Charles Dee Mitchell
This is the first Muriel Spark novel I have read, and I have always had the notion that she was an author one read entirely, not just a random novel here and there. But The Girls of Slender Means is a completely satisfying three hours' read. Spark had me from the first paragraph, and when the novel was over, the incidents of death, murder, and insanity seemed all of a piece with the sort of girls' boarding house comedy I associate with something along the lines of Stage Door.

The setting is Lond...more
This was my first Muriel Spark book, and I found it enjoyable to read for its wit and glimpses of life in mid-century London. The story centers on half a dozen young women in the waning months of World War II, housed in the fictional May of Teck Club in a fashionable part of London. The perspective alternates between real-time narration and brief phone conversations nearly twenty years later amongst the former residents, the "girls of slender means" (young ladies of 'good family' but limited pro...more
Marc L
Londen, 1945, de zomer na de oorlog. Spark focust op een groepje jonge vrouwen dat er het beste van probeert te maken, zowel in het dagelijkse leven (alles is nog op de bon) als in de strijd om de mannen. Ze wonen in een huis voor "minderbedeelde" meisjes, al moet dat hier in meerdere betekenissen worden begrepen. Dit korte verhaal slingert enkele keren heen en weer tussen 1945 en een niet bepaald later tijdstip (begin jaren 60?). Spark is zoals anders ongelofelijk trefzeker in haar tekening, ma...more
So despite my proclivity for all things England, I'm beginning to realize that I don't like Muriel Spark. I love Miss Jean Brodie, but that's due to the strength of the character (and not in small part to the movie version). Her writing is SO cynical, and always with the benefit of hindsight. I remember being annoyed that I knew what was going to happen at the end of Miss Jean Brodie before it had even started--and I felt the same way about this. I much prefer a straightforward narrative. And I...more
Persephone Abbott
Why didn't someone ever tell me to read Muriel Spark? I read this in one go back and forth on the train yesterday. I thought about giving it four stars but then had to give five. Why? Because the construction of the novel made me think and enjoy it even more after I had finished. The loss of the illusion of innocence, post war Britain, the fears creating the illusion of innocence, etc. I loved the poetry quotes, they filled in the background nicely, and I loved the cynical social commentary in w...more
This book was like a dream.

And I have already forgotten what most of it was about.
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 o...more
A light, almost farcical book becomes a tragedy in the last few pages and then moves on.

"All the nice people were poor, and few people were nicer, as nice people come, than these girls at Kensington who glanced out of the windows in the early mornings to see what the day looked like, or gazed out on the green summer evenings, as if reflecting on the months ahead, on love and the relations of love."
I think I just love Spark's writing. Other than The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie I've yet to read one of her books that I didn't enjoy. The Girls of Slender Means was characteristically easy to read, witty and filled with well observed, flawed, quirky characters. I love how Spark plays with conventional writing techniques; not so much that her work should be confined to an English Lit class, but enough to add something different to her stories.

I wouldn't suggest The Girls of Slender Means for someo...more
Juliet O'brien
Our book club read in the past 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' which we all really enjoyed and had a long in depth discussion about. So when I saw this in a charity shop I decided to buy it, then in December the book club wanted a short book before Christmas so I suggested this one. I really enjoyed it. Set in the 40's in a Kensington hostel for unmarried women working in London, it reflects a period in time near the end of the war where women started to go out to work but still needed to live i...more
I learned that "Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity of body and mind, complete composure whatever the social scene. Elegant dress, immaculate grooming, and perfect deportment all contribute to the attainment of self-confidence."
Nov 27, 2010 Spotsalots added it
Shelves: fiction
I enjoyed rereading this. I also wondered, when I got to the end, how many publishers these days would accept a novel with an ending like that. Maybe only from an established writer, which admittedly Spark was when this came out.
Evan Snyder
Like Loitering with Intent, I found this one just bla. I didn't even bother finishing it. And I can't really be bothered to say more about it right now.
Just because something is on the 'Classics' shelf, doesn't mean its worth reading.
Petra X
Reread Sept 2011
Vicki Ghilardi

This book, it seemed as I read, wanted me to think it frivolous. Oh, what a cute, slim little thing, chronicling the lives and loves of “the girls of slender means,” living under one roof in the bombed-out London of 1945! But there’s something deceptively clever and meaningful about focusing on the worries of teens and 20-somethings between WWII victories over Germany and Japan (cosmetic care being thwarted by rations, the importance of preserving one Schiaparelli dress, passed around among t...more
I read a quick review and it had quoted one of the opening lines, "Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions." I found that so interesting that I had to read it. The opening pages were great, more of the opening, descriptions of the buildings and the state of the people after the war. Once the story started though, the magic fell away. It kept flashing from past to present so quickly that I couldn't connect with either time period.

Not a bad story... it j...more
I read and enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) a good while ago now, and while I enjoyed it very much, The Girls of Slender Means (1963) is now my favourite. It’s a slim novella of only 100 pages or so, but every word is perfectly placed and is generously allusive. Re-readings reveal all kinds of meaning beyond the sparkling wit and black humour. That’s why the book is listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 edition) where it is said to be derived from Gerard Manley Hopk...more
"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions." My first introduction to the witty waspish world of Muriel Spark, all elegant prose and sharp stiletto knives slipping in. Pretty decent book, set between VE Day and VJ Day in 1945, about the lives of a bunch of girls living in a women's hostel - the May of Teck Club - on Kensington Road across from the Albert Memorial, just a couple of miles from where I'm sitting typing this.

A different London then, wartime...more
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500 Great Books B...: The Girls of Slender Means - Muriel Spark 1 1 Jul 26, 2014 10:38PM  
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Dame Muriel Spark, DBE (1918–2006) 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. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. A few years earlier, in 1954, she converte...more
More about Muriel Spark...
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie A Far Cry from Kensington The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver's Seat, The Only Problem (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) Memento Mori The Driver's Seat

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“it never really occurred to her that literary men, if they like women at all, do not want literary women but girls.” 23 likes
“after thirty years' hostile fellowship with Collie, of course she did quite well understand that collie had a habit of skipping several stages in the logical sequence of her thoughts and would utter apparently disconnected statements, especially when confused by unfamiliar subject or the presence of a man” 1 likes
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