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.
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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.