BOOK REVIEW: THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS BY MURIEL SPARK

girls of slender means

GENERAL INFORMATION

TITLE: THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS

AUTHOR: MURIEL SPARK

PAGES: 142

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN BOOKS    

YEAR: 1963

GENRE: HISTORICAL FICTION

COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girls_of_Slender_Means

http://digital.nls.uk/murielspark

I was in high school when I read spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie when I was in high school. I thought it was brilliant the movie version starring Maggie Smith is brilliant. I never knew Spark wrote any other novel until I started to see them on a regular basis in the library and had to check them out.

The Girls of Slender Means was adapted for TV in 1975 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424119).

BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER 

London, 1945 

The war is grinding to a halt and the city begins to embrace the hordes who gather to hear the political speeches of the day. 

And in the tightly-knit community of a Kensington hostel, a bevy of well-bred girls of slender means and intriguing morals are leading lives of ritual and femininity, plotting among themselves for the suitors who call to confer favours of clothing coupons, meals and more – and the interlude of innocence is destroyed by the tragedy and horror of the times.    

THE OPENING LINE 

Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions.  

OVERALL IMPRESSION  

The Girls of Slender Means was enjoyable to read but not quite the quality I was expecting after The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The Girls of Slender Means is a much earlier novel and Spark clearly developed as a writer. I thought The Girls of Slender Means was okay but nothing startling. I was impressed by how well Spark took the narrative from everyday frivolity of the ‘The May of Teck Club’ into tragedy.  

REVIEW 

I love the title. It’s the reason I picked this up in the first place.  

I like the way Spark structures The Girls of Slender Means. The novella is split into 9 chapters. It’s structured in a story-within-a-story style. Sort of. The frame story is set in 1963 and deals with the news that Nicholas Farringdon; an anarchist turned Jesuit priest has been killed in Haiti. A former member of ‘The May Teck Club’ wants to research his transformation into a priest. This frame story takes up a small percentage of the narrative. The chunk of The Girls of Slender Means is flashbacks that focus on Nicholas’s relationships with various women in the club and the tragic bomb attack that killed Joanna Childe, the elocution instructor and led to his conversion. I can be fussy about non-linear narratives but Spark pulls this off well. I think the structure is perfect for a short little novella.  

I like Spark’s style of writing. Her use of language is quite sparse. Spark doesn’t waste a word. I’m not usually a fan of this style but it works well with The Girls of Slender Means. This is possibly because it’s a short little novella. I don’t think I could read 300 or 400+ pages of her sparse style. In a novella an author can’t afford to ramble.  

I was impressed by how well drawn the characters are in The Girls of Slender Means. There’s not a lot of space for characters to really develop but Spark pulls it off. The characters felt very large and real and whole. I was impressed that Spark managed to achieve this in just over 100 pages. 

I was impressed by how much Spark packs into The Girls of Slender Means. An impressive amount of events happen for such a short piece of writing. There was enough drama, humour and tragedy to fill 300 or 400 pages.  

The part of The Girls of Slender Means I enjoyed the most comes in the last couple of chapters when things at ‘The May Teck Club’ take a tragic turn. Spark doesn’t drop a single hint of what’s coming. Tilly, on the girls who lives in the club tries to climb through the window of her room after missing curfew and gets stuck. This causes much hilarity which quickly turns to tragedy when combs start to drop. I was shocked by the unexpected turn of events. I love it when authors take me by surprise.   

FINAL THOUGHTS

Spark offers us insight into ordinary lives tainted by tragedy in The Girls of Slender Means. The novella is well written with real, believable characters. I enjoyed reading it but it just didn’t spark enough for me.  

RATING

3 STAR RATING

 

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