Tag Archives: Muriel Spark Reading Week

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

the girls of slender means - muriel sparkThe Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark
Avon, 1963

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository

A few days ago, Claire posted: “I always feel like I should have stronger reactions to Spark’s books.” She continues to explain how she finds Spark’s books thought-provoking, clever, and humorous, but that she misses a special click with any of them, apart from perhaps The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

I tend to agree with Claire’s feelings, even if I have only read three Spark novels up to now. You see, I have been puzzling over what exactly I could say about The Girls of Slender Means that would make a worthwhile post, but I find I do not have much to tell.

The Girls of Slender Means is about the May of Teck Club, a house in London where single women reside. Set between the end of World War II in Britain, and the capitulation of Japan, the novel follows a number of girls while they try to continue their regular life of diets, dating, elocution, and jobs.

That is all I want to say about the plot to avoid revealing too much for future readers.

As with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Finishing School, Muriel Spark’s prose is artful and clever. The manner in which she manages to tell full stories with multiple characters in a relatively short manner surprises me each time. It has become such a joy to find how so many small details that might seem marginal on first glance fit into the larger plot in the end. And I appreciate her humour, absurdity, and play with words. As a personal note, and this will be uninteresting to anyone else, no doubt, I should add that the story about Nicholas, the reformed anarchist turned martyred missionary, made me chuckle each time. I assume this has to do with my endless perusing of missionary literature for my master thesis.

But I have to wonder if it is not exactly the humour and the subtly mocking tone Spark applies to most of the girls that keeps me at a certain distance from the characters, and makes me unable to feel more than a detached interest in them. I am not sure that even matters, as it is really the storytelling itself, the themes and subversion, that I enjoy in Spark’s novels. But at the same time, I cannot shake this sense of detachment and move beyond it.

Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed The Girls of Slender Means much better than The Finishing School, though I do still think The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is my favourite. I appreciate Muriel Spark’s cleverness, and certainly agree that she is a most accomplished author. But there’s something that keeps me from going from appreciation and enjoyment to loving her stories. I wish it wasn’t so.

Other Opinions: Savidge Reads, My Porch, A Work in Progress, Fifty Books Project, Books for Breakfast, Paperback Reader, Harriet Devine.
Did I miss your post? Let me know and I will add it to the list. 

* This is an affiliate link. If you buy a product through this link, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

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Simon and Harriet are hosting a Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23rd to April 29. Pop over to their blog to check out their dedicated posts. For more posts on Muriel Spark this week, I’d like to redirect you to the twitter tag #MurielSparkReadingWeek.

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

the finishing school - muriel sparkThe Finishing School – Muriel Spark
Viking, the Penguin Group, 2004

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I admit I was a little surprised that The Finishing School was published as late as 2004, as I associate Muriel Spark with books set and written around the post World War II period. But, I have since learned that this is the last novel written by Spark and published before her death in 2006.

The Finishing School is about a finishing school, a school between highschool and college, if I understood correctly, run by Rowland and Nina. The school, having moved locations repeatedly over the years due to never being able to pay of all their debts, is currently located at Lausanne, France. Rowland, who leads a class on creative writing, working on a novel of his own, soon becomes jealous of Chris, a star writer of seventeen, who seems to need little guidance in writing his first novel, that is also, coincidentally, about jealousy and Mary Queen of Scots. Rowland’s jealousy of Chris soon becomes an obsession, and so follows a story revolving around the themes of jealousy and sexual attraction.

As a fairly new reader of Muriel Spark, having only previously read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I recognised some of the themes that can be found in that novel. The school setting, and Rowland as a jealous and unsavory role model to his students, but who also inspires them, or at least Chris, are things that stand out right away. As in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Spark’s prose is sparse, though less dense to get through. I think overall, The Finishing School is the quicker read, with less hidden meaning, and more room for more random scenes that do not seem to immediately fit the general theme of the book, such as the fashion scene Simon talked about in his post..

The fact that this is a faster read, does not mean it is a more enjoyable one. On the contrary, I could not help but feel that something was missing in this novella, something that raises it above an enjoyable read to a level of making a contribution to Spark’s oeuvre as a whole. Yes, I dare say that having only read one Spark previously, and being in the middle of her The Girls of Slender Means. Based on the posts by people who have read more by Spark, quoted below, I think my overall feeling is justified. The Finishing School raises some interesting themes and questions, and I enjoyed having Spark reflect on the philosophy and practice of writing, the differences of opinion, through Chris and Rowland, while all the while firmly establishing herself as the better writer yet, who plays with her character’s writing ambitions. Nevertheless it lacked that quality that I was so happy to discover in the story of Jean Brodie earlier this year.

Other Opinions: Fifty Books Project, Savidge Reads, Novel Insights, Book-Blog.com, Harriet Devine’s Blog, Pages Turned.
Did I miss your post? Let me know and I will add it to the list. 

* This is an affiliate link. If you buy a product through this link, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

-  -  -

Simon and Harriet are hosting a Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23rd to April 29. Pop over to their blog to check out their dedicated posts. For more posts on Muriel Spark this week, I’d like to redirect you to the twitter tag #MurielSparkReadingWeek.