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The Girls of Slender Means

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  6,464 ratings  ·  693 reviews
Like the May of Teck Club itself—"three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit"—its lady inhabitants do their best to act as if the world were back to normal: practicing elocution, and jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. The novel's harrowing ending reveals that the girls' giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragica ...more
Paperback, 140 pages
Published April 17th 1998 by New Directions (first published 1963)
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Martin McCandlish Muriel Spark was a master of the short story form, and although she is arguably better known for her longer pieces (The Drivers Seat, Prime of Miss Je…moreMuriel Spark was a master of the short story form, and although she is arguably better known for her longer pieces (The Drivers Seat, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means) this may be attributed to them being more easily adapted to screen and stage thus entering the public consciousness rather than them being regarded as superior works.

There's an efficiency and briskness in her writing which lends itself to shorter pieces such as the short story form and novelette, which may answer why several of her titles are within the range you highlighted.

Also, being part of the modernist school of writing meant Spark was more interested in language and constructed narrative than she was with the plot, hence the time-shifting and existential leanings in most of her work, which again lends itself to shorter pieces which eradicate extraneous detail. (less)

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Average rating 3.65  · 
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Lisa
“Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions.”

After a glorious first sentence like that, how could Mrs Spark fail to deliver her usual sparkling cocktail of absurd every-day business, chaotic lifestyles and abrupt drama? Her story is set in the direct aftermath of the Second World War, allowing for exceptions.

It concerns the lives of a charming set of young and not so young ladies living together in a building in London which has survived the bombing, bu
...more
Violet wells
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The hostel where all the girls in this novel live has a roof where, it's implied, a kind of liberating excitement awaits, but the only way of getting up there is to squeeze through a narrow window. Most of the girls can't get their hips through. Some of the girls strip naked and smear their bodies with margarine in a futile attempt to squeeze through. Hard to think of a more bitingly witty metaphor for what awaits young women in 1945 when they aspire to a bigger horizon.

For much of this small
...more
Steven Godin
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Muriel Spark just might be the best writer of short novels I'll ever come across. I simply couldn't imagine her writing something 300-400+ pages and it being anywhere near as perfect as this little gem - my fifth and favourite. As much as I loved A Far Cry from Kensington, I have to say I thought this was even better. It made my belly rumble, and it wasn't just the mention of bread-and-butter pudding, cheese pie and stewed cherries that did it, I was feeling hungry for more of her work after the
...more
Fionnuala
There's always a quantity of information in a Muriel Spark book title, no matter how short, but this one is particularly laden with meaning.

The Girls of the title have very little money, living as they do in a London hostel for young working women during the rationing period towards the end of WWII. They have the usual preoccupations of their time: military boyfriends, clothes coupons, and food. Or food first, then boyfriends and clothes, depending on the preoccupations of the individual girl.
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Robin
This is an eccentric book. Much like, I'm guessing, most of Muriel Spark's books. I've only read three now, including The Girls of Slender Means.

I had a difficult time initially, getting into to the novel. It starts out with a very broad narrative voice, and then moves through a series of scene fragments with many different characters. Time shifts were not particularly easy to follow. I found myself grasping, trying to hold onto something for a little perspective. To my frustration, I didn't rea
...more
Jan-Maat
You know how it is with a Murial Spark book, you start off reading ' oh this is so witty, my fingers are getting singed from her sparky humour' that you don't notice her sliding the knife in until she chooses to twist it.

I am a little in awe of her restraint, having spent a week reading one book then I breeze through this - if you started after lunch you need not fear being late to dinner. She's an awfully economical writer, the references to ration books and calorie counting could well apply to
...more
Paul
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spark
Spark at her best; acerbic, bitingly funny, satirical, unsettling, great use of language, numerous interesting and well-crafted characters, layers of meaning and it captures a moment of social history to boot. It captures the brief period of 1945 between VE day and VJ day, a period of three to four months.
The novel (well novella really) centres on the May of Teck Club in Kensington. The club is
“for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirt
...more
Kalliope
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing


GIRLS of SLENDER MEANS but of PLUMP IMAGINATION

This was a world in which jam-jars were in shorter supply than glasses and mugs. This was London in mid 1945, a London in which its Albert Memorial had managed to dodge a hundred per cent of the bombs, but where many other buildings and their inhabitants had not. This was the period in between the fall of Germany, after which the Brits dropped Churchill to embrace Labour, and the dropping of the bombs in Japan.

This was the time of Coupons, for
...more
BrokenTune
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
What an odd story. What an odd composition.

Told mostly in flashbacks, The Girls of Slender Means tells of a group of girls who share lodgings at a home for women under 30 who have limited means of income. The story is mostly set during the summer of 1945 - between the end of the war in Europe and in the Far East.

As a snap-shot of the time that the story is set in, this books works wonderfully well. Spark had a gift for preserving details in the pages of her books that other authors may have h
...more
Jean-Luke
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie's younger sister--the child the parents decided to have because the first one was such a delight. Not stepsister--the family resemblence is definitely there--certainly not ugly stepsister. You loved one at one point, and then you met the other, and now you're not sure which one you prefer. Each certainly has her charms, and her flaws as well. Definitely more a case of Inventing the Abbots than Cinderella. ...more
Teresa
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, telephone calls informing of a death reminded me of Memento Mori. Spark's snideness, sarcasm, black humor, and wit are here, including observations on religion and sex, related in innuendos and also bluntly. Repetition and a circling around the char ...more
Mark
' 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
·Karen·
For the 100th anniversary of her birth the BBC showed this documentary about Muriel Spark which featured my favourite Scottish writers, A.L. Kennedy, Ali Smith, William Boyd, all singing her praises, so I thought I would give her another whirl, see what it is I've been missing in her work. There must be something. Acerbic wit, lightness of touch on heavy themes, quirkiness, apparently.

Also in that documentary, Ms Spark revealed that she would mostly get the title and then the book would more or
...more
Hanneke
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-read
Great wit, great story, great characters, fascinating era and location. I was just reading along, enjoying the story to the fullest, while constantly grinning, when, bam, out of the blue and amidst all that clever and innocent chatter, disaster strikes. Ms Spark, I wish you were still alive so I could write you a fan letter!
Dhanaraj Rajan
Review for this book can be written in many ways. It would all depend on the aspect that the reader tries to focus on. Otherwise, it is a typical Spark - witty, satiric and completely engaging.

I was very much struck by the theme of Faith and Conversion in this novel. As you all must be aware, most of Spark's novels deal with Catholicism/Christian faith. It is not very conspicuous but each novel in one way or other puts forward a opinion of Spark on religion. In fact, a person can very well miss
...more
Madeline
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-list
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
Hugh
Mar 10, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part of my occasional ongoing project to read as many of Spark's novels as possible, this was another find in the library, and another very enjoyable read.

The setting is the May of Teck Club, a sort of semi-charitable hostel which offered affordable London accommodation to the "girls of slender means" of the title, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. It is something of an ensemble piece, loosely held together by the death some years later of a man who became involved in the lives
...more
Alex
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
It's the summer of 1945 and there is or isn't an unexploded bomb in the garden of the May of Teck Club, a rooming house for girls of slender means. Jane is in love with the anarchist poet Nick Farrington, or not, but of course he (as an anarchist poet) is hapless in every way and ends up sleeping with hot asshole Selena Redwood on the roof. How does she get on the roof, you ask. It doesn't matter how he gets on the roof but it matters how she does. There's a very narrow window. Only the girls wi ...more
Carla Remy
May 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
From 1963
Mostly takes place during WWII at a dormitory house for unmarried ladies, called The May and Teck Club. London is all bombed and, eventually, in a climactic scene, an unexploded one goes off consuming the building in fire. Leading to dramatic action and tragedy. Muriel Spark's writing is sharp, hilarious and unexpected.
...more
Paul Sánchez Keighley
Review #100. Yay, I guess?

A smart, sexy, funny novela built on a stark, serious foundation. What a solid concept most deftly executed.

The setting is a hostel for young women coming from rural England to find their first jobs in London during World War II. The girls are in their early twenties, and are therefore in equal parts brave and naive, filled with high hopes and bright ideals but also out to have a good time.

The way Spark describes these girls’ attempts to crawl their way out of poverty t
...more
Dona Loves Books
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Because she wrote in a different generation from mine, and in a different country, and while there was a World War on, I was certainly not Spark's audience and I don't always understand her humor or the subtext. As a general rule, I don't research much when I pleasure read, unless I'm very curious, and Spark does not tend to pique my interest in that way. Therefore, for me, reading Spark is a little like being drunk. I'm only half-present, but I really enjoy myself for the parts that I'm there. ...more
James Barker
It’s 1945 and the time between the two armistices of the war and in the Mary of Teck Club, a glorified hostel for girls of slender means in Kensington, a well-flagged tragedy is waiting to strike. Just as in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ Sparks captures perfectly a world of women filled with malice and fast friendships with her delicious, trademark wit. Typically this involves a non-linear story, Sparks’ expertise with analepsis and prolepsis and deceptively shallow portrayals of her character ...more
Margitte
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read. Will review later.
Chrissie
Haven’t read Muriel Spark? Read her.

This novella is about a handful of girls residing at the May of Teck Club, a boarding-house "for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London". We follow the girls, their work and their beaux. “Slender Means” signifies the girls’ financial standing, their prospects and plans for the future and, hopefully, a
...more
Marc
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
London, in 1945, the summer after the end of the war. Spark focuses on a group of young women that are trying to make the best of it, both in everyday's life (everything is rationed) and in the battle for a man. They live in a house for "underprivileged" girls, to be understood in several senses. This short story meanders back and forth several times between 1945 and a not determined later period (early 60s?).

As always Spark is incredibly accurate in her drawing, but to my feeling much harder,
...more
Jonathan
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: burgess-99
One of those slight, little books whose endings are well done enough to make you look back with greater fondness at the mediocre start.
Elizabeth
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
What is even HAPPENING here? Was Muriel drunk when she wrote this? Am I drunk? I have no idea what's going on in this book. Am I missing something? Am I missing everything? This novel is so haphazard. About halfway through it finally latches on to a mildly discernible plot, but it's almost nothing! It's as if this little book was just a scratchpad of ideas that Muriel scribbled down for future use. It's not exactly bad writing, it's just hectic and at certain points it's almost incomprehensible ...more
Deborah Biancotti
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writer-women
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, kin
...more
Nick Imrie
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'What's your raison d'être?' Jane asks the young poets that she's scamming working on.
'What's your raison d'être?' I wondered about this book: a claustrophobic, sinister work. I couldn't help but feel it had great depths that I didn't quite manage to plumb. A mood of terrible foreboding hangs over the entire novel. Everything seemed so... significant. Partly this is due to the wonderful density of the writing. It's a slender (haha!) book, and yet the large cast of characters are all well-drawn a
...more
Will Ansbacher
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
The “girls of slender means” are residents of the May of Teck Club, a hostel in London at the end of World War II. (Being “slender” is also one their obsessions). The story is told in intermittent flashbacks from ten or more years on, as one of the girls, Jane, calls round her old friends to tell them of the sudden death of Nicholas, a poet they knew from that time.

It’s clever and a delight to read, light but not light-weight; Spark’s detached, gently mocking tone contrasting with the darkness a
...more
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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 Elio
...more

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