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The Girls of Slender Means

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  4,269 ratings  ·  411 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…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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3.64  · 
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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, but
...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
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.
...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
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
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 hav
...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
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, there are telephone calls informing of a death that 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 a ...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!
·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
Paul Bryant
Jun 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Dhanaraj Rajan
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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
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
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
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
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
Bettie☯
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anna
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, scottish, fiction
I had a strong sense of deja vu reading ‘The Girls of Slender Means’ because at some prior point I'd read a very detailed literary analysis of it. I can’t remember where or by whom, so presumably it was in a book of essays. As a result, I knew the ending, because lit crit never warns for spoilers. (view spoiler) ...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,
...more
R.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Kats
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Judy
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can always count on Muriel Spark to cheer me up. "Comic-metaphysical entertainment" indeed. I have now read seven novels by this Scottish born writer and have only scratched the surface of her work. She wrote 24 of them before she died in 2006 at 88 years of age.

These mildly impoverished female survivors of WWII live in an old boarding house in London, surrounded by bomb wreckage. Ages vary and even within the building there is a class hierarchy because it is, after all, Great Britain in the
...more
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
Nigeyb
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Girls of Slender Means (1963) is primarily set in 1945, between April and July of that year, albeit from the perspective of 1963, as Jane, one of the primary characters, prompted by the death of Nicholas Farringdon (anarchist poet philosopher and latterly Jesuit priest) looks back on that time.

The novel focusses on the residents of the May of Teck Club in Kensington. The May of Teck is a hostel "for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of
...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
London, just after the second world war. Basic necessities are scarce, food and clothes are being rationed. Somewhere in the city there is an old residential building turned into a dormitory which was spared from the Nazi bombings. Here is found the May of Teck Club and its first of the Rules of Constitution explains what it is:

"The May of Teck Club exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart
...more
Anna Luce
★★★✰✰ 3 stars

There are some brilliant moments in this short novel. Sadly, these were often clouded by a torrent-like narrative.
Spark perfectly evokes the time in which her story takes place. Through turn of phrases and slangs she gives her dialogues great credibility. While I found plenty of the dialogue to be witty, I did find her acerbic style to be occasionally a bit tiring. The characters too suffered at the hands of the narration since I could not say that I ever came to regard them as rea
...more
Anna
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I am slightly disappointed with the girls of slender means….
The scene for the novel is set brilliantly by the following:
”Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions” and who wouldn’t be charmed by that? Specially followed by description of the efter-war London with bomb-ripped buildings that looked like ruins of ancient castles and this matter of fact statement:
”There was absolutely no point in feeling depressed about the scene, it would have been like fe
...more
Marc
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Lucy Somerhalder
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh, I love Muriel. She has a fantastic way of casually making serious young men look utterly ridiculous.
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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
...more
“it never really occurred to her that literary men, if they like women at all, do not want literary women but girls.” 36 likes
“You don't know what it's like trying to eat enough to live on and at the same time avoid fats and carbohydrates.” 5 likes
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