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The Finishing School

3.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,212 ratings  ·  195 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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Perhaps the title was meant playfully, since this was Muriel Spark's last book, but it seems not — she'd begun another book just before she died aged eighty eight. When I first heard about that unfinished book, and before I'd read many of her books, I thought what a pity that we'd never be able to read it. Now, having read a couple of the later books, I don't feel at all regretful. She had her Prime, and the books she gave us in her Prime are more than enough.
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
William Dale
Jan 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved Muriel Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" which was written earlier in her long career. This was her last novel written two years before her death. While not as deep and detailed as "Jean Brodie", I found this to be a fun, frisky read. The contentious relationship between writers who none the less feed off each other was great fun to see. Overall, not her best but I really liked it!
Jun 29, 2010 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 ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: february-2018
My University held a two-day conference to mark Muriel Spark's centenary in early February, and it seemed rude not to buy a book whilst I was volunteering. I have read quite a few of Spark's books to date, but The Finishing School is one of those outstanding which I have had my eye on for quite a while. I was intrigued enough, in fact, to begin reading it right away.

According to a few of the lecturers and general Spark fans whom I spoke to at the conference, The Finishing School is her weakest
Rachel Aranda
This is shocking for me to admit but I forgot I had read this book previously. The plot was that boring. If I didn't have to read this for a friend's book club I would have probably just stopped and chosen another book. Instead I found an audiobook copy that was narrated by a narrator, Nadia May, I have had good experiences with previously.

Let me start off this review by saying the writing in this novella isn't bad. Truth be told the writing is just fine, and it could have been a good book
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 ...more
Oct 12, 2010 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 ...more
Jan 15, 2013 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.
Oct 13, 2010 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.
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 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 ...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.
Sep 22, 2010 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.
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, scottish
There was something disconcerting about the modernity of ‘The Finishing School’, as it has precisely the same tone as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Driver's Seat, yet the characters send emails. It was published in 2004 and is presumably set then. I wouldn’t say that Spark’s tone is ill-suited to the 21st century, just that it surprised me. I enjoyed her arch omniscience, in this case focused on a mildly dubious finishing school run by a married couple. As the husband fails to write a ...more
Callum McLaughlin
There were themes and ideas in this that were really interesting. Namely, professional jealousy, and art feeding from toxic relationships. Sadly, I just found the whole thing a little too jarring. Firstly, the setting, characterisation, and dialogue felt too much like historical fiction for a modern novel supposedly set in the early 2000s. The strange, slightly hypnotic atmosphere could have been really effective, but by far the most interesting parts of the narrative were glossed over in just a ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muriel Sparks last book. As the introduction says ‘Muriel Spark’s books may be short but, like a good dram, they have a long finish’.

The plot is set in Switzerland at a finishing school that is not really a school but a way for Nina and Rowland to make money in a fun way. They care little for the pupils but not in a nasty way and teach classes which have no rigor or reason.

Rowland is trying also to write a novel but suffering writers block. Along comes 17 year old Chris who is writing an
Rachel Aranda
This is shocking for me to admit but I forgot I had read this book previously. The plot was that boring. If I didn't have to read this for school and a friend's book club then I would have probably just stopped and chosen another book.

Let me start off this review by saying the writing in this novella isn't bad. Truth be told the writing is just fine, and it could have been a good book given the proper care. As the novella is right now, I felt no connection to the story or the characters. I think
Apr 11, 2017 rated it liked it
“You begin,” he said, “by setting your scene. You have to see your scene, either in reality or in imagination. For instance, from here you can see across the lake. But on a day like this you can’t see across the lake, it’s too misty. You can’t see the other side.” Rowland took off his reading glasses to stare at his creative writing class whose parents’ money was being thus spent: two boys and three girls around sixteen to seventeen years of age, some more, some a little less. “So,” he said, “ ...more
The Finishing School by Muriel Spark - Very Good

The last novel Muriel Spark ever had published. For me it brought me full circle.

A married couple, Rowland and Nina, run a peripatetic finishing school, currently in Switzerland. They keep moving as they run up debts, constantly looking for cheaper premises to keep their costs low. They sell this as a feature, that the young people in their care see more places and experience different cultures, can immerse themselves in different languages. It is
This was a quick read - short and sweet.

I liked it enough but didn't love it. Set in a Finishing School, where well to do families send their children to absorb some culture and learn a little about the world before launching out into it. It is run by a young couple, Rowland and Nina, who have a small select group of students, amongst them Chris a 17 year old aspiring novelist.

Chris's perceived success torments Rowland, who is struggling with his own writing. Neither can work with, nor
Apr 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A small school relocates in Switzerland with its pupils and teachers. There is a fierce competition between one of the owners, a would be novelist, and one of the students, who is writing a historic novel about Mary Queen of Scots. The other owner offers special, short sessions of useless information. Sardonic and short, this was a fun read, but the story falls apart at the end.

"In case you are thinking of getting a job at the United Nations," Nina told them, "I have picked up a bit of
Jan 10, 2008 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
Jun 20, 2014 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.
Kirsty Darbyshire
Feb 14, 2012 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 ...more
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who get a lot from the turn of a phrase.
Craftsmanship of the highest order. It looks sloppy, but it's quite the opposite. This is a fun book for people who have had more than a brush or two with Creative Writing gurus. It's not cynical, but Spark could have gone the cynical route here if she'd wanted to do so and the book would still have been entertaining. I think this must be looked on as a comic story.
I've just learned, reading some of the reviews, that Muriel Spark passed away not very long after this was published. This mirthful
Elizabeth (Alaska)
While the LA Times is quoted as called this "ingeniously comic", I would call it mildly amusing. I recognize that my sense of humor may be somewhat subdued compared to many, so that might not mean much.

This is a very quick read. This edition has wide margins and the text is unjustified. If printed normally, I would guess it would come in closer to 100 pages, rather than nearly 200. I enjoyed my very few hours, but I'm not sure I'll be picking up another Muriel Spark very soon.

I did observe that
Jan 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Not recommended
Shelves: 2014, w-mcl, 0-hard-copy
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.
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, that was odd. I admit I mostly bought this book because it was set in Switzerland (Ouchy in Lausanne - I've been there!), but I expected more from the blurb. Despite the laptops and mobile phones, it felt like this book was set in the past... are there really still finishing school these days? And I couldn't engage with any of the characters. Most of them were just boring, except maybe Nina. Two stars, because I didn't actually hate it...
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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