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The Girls Of Slender Means [Paperback]

Muriel Spark
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 May 1975
This is London 1945, when all nice people are poor. Muriel Spark sets us down among the girls of good family but slender means as they fight it out, from their Kensington hostel to the last clothing coupon until this charmingly light-hearted period in their lives descends into horror and tragedy.

Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Impression edition (29 May 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140024263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140024265
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 182,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Spark writes with a light comic touch, but there's an undertone of a kind of existential desperation.--Patrick T. Reardon

About the Author

Muriel Spark's many novels include Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, A Far Cry From Kensington, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (adapted for film and theatre), Aiding And Abetting and her final novel, The Finishing School. She was elected C. Litt in 1992 and awarded the DBE in 1993. Dame Muriel received many awards, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the FNAC Prix Etranger, the Saltire Prize, the Ingersoll T. S. Eliot Award and the David Cohen British Literature Prize in recognition of a lifetime's literary achievement. Dame Muriel died in 2006.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, witty, sparky novel 23 Jun 2009
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story looks back to the war, when a random group of girls with very little money who are working as clerks and secretaries for the war effort, live in a hotel for genteel young gentlewomen just off Kensington High Street. The novel tells of their escapades, their relationships to one another, their generous sharing of a single Shiaparelli evening gown, their climbing out of a tiny attic window onto the roof for frolics - well, those who are thin enough can.

All of this becomes linked towards the end of the story, when there is the most wonderful description of a typical London wartime event, with all its pitfalls and ramifications. (won't say what, don't want to spoil the story, but being 'slender' becomes very important.)

It's all told with her sharp, sharp wit, her eye for observation and her cutting comments about people and the way they are, yet her sense of amusement at it all never makes it seem harsh. Elegant, funny, so short you wish it were longer, this is Muriel Spark at her best and a great follow-up to Miss Jean Brodie if you are coming to it from there.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning 28 July 2010
This slim volume has it all - great and thoughtful writing, superb characterisation, a good story, wonderful atmosphere, humour, tragedy and pace. Spark has fitted everything into her 142 pages that Dickens might take four or five times that to cover.

Set in London towards the end of World War 2, the Girls of the title are well bred ladies living in the oddly named May of Teck, which is a boarding house for genteel, hard up, single girls although a few middle aged spinsters also still live there. The girls' main occupation is men and they fall in and out of love as various young boys pass through their lives and back into the war. One such is Nicholas Farringdon, a would-be poet, who we know at the start of the story is going to die.

The plot revolves around Farringdon's interaction with three of the girls, Jane Wright who works for the publishing house that Nicholas hopes will take up his poems, Selina Redwood who is the most beautiful and manipulative of the girls, and Joanna Childe the daughter of a church minister who teaches elocution through poetry and psalms to the other girls.

A surprise love story evolves as Farringdon spends the summer sleeping with Selina on the roof of the May Teck club where they are safe from prying eyes - because only the very slimmest girls can wriggle through the window onto the roof (hence the double meaning of the title). There is a mad swirl around them as the war ends and people try to find stability in their lives. The spinsters worry that there is a UXB in the garden, the girls swap their Schiaparelli taffeta evening dress backwards and forwards to social events, there are parties and boys and Joanna's poetry as well as side plots about Jane's boss, Selina's other boyfriend and so on.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Slender Book of Major Means 9 Nov 2009
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The Girls of Slender Means tells the stories of several young women in the year of 1945 living in The May of Teck Club (pretty much a hostel) near Kensington Gardens. The girls are all working as clerks or secretaries and living on rations, clothing coupons and hand outs from admiring men. Through each on of the girls in the book Spark looks at the morals and plotting of such a group of women in both a comic and sometimes shocking way.

We have Joanna a rectors daughter who shockingly fell for a rector herself before coming to London and teaching elocution lessons, Greggie, Jarvie and Collie the old maids of the building, Pauline Fox a mad young lady who believes she dines with the actor Jack Buchanan every night, Jane Wright who works in a publisher and gets authors to write letters signed she can sell on the black market and yet who doesn't know Henry James is dead and Selina a woman of loose morals who sleeps with weak men but pursues strong ones for marriage partners she wont sleep with yet. All of them will become more unified and torn apart though not only when Nicholas Farringdon a charming author turns up, but when a shocking (I gasped) event leads to one girls fatal end (I gasped again). A small book that packs a big punch or two.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Erudite, intelligent and a little sardonic, Muriel Spark's entertaining novel 'The Girls of Slender Means' centers around a women's boarding house at the close of World War Two. The War provides an interesting and topical framing for the novel, and gives it an extra sense of authenticity, though the drama of the boarding house, and it's varied characters and social hierarchy provide the main focus for Spark's exploration of independent female society, and the morals and female relationships of the time. The story is made up of interesting vignettes, which tie together through the social interaction of the girls, and the various men who visit them, and the light feel of the episodes contrasts well with the more serious reflections Spark attempts to make, regarding the social conducts and rights of personal independence for the women.

Spark's tale of Joanna, the elocution teacher, is particularly interesting in light of these issues, and probably the most enjoyable sections of the book. The novel's climax is rather more dramatic than the subtle, but intriguing window into a style of life which most of the novel deals with, and fits a little awkwardly with the rest of the work, though it does show well the solidarity of the boarding house's ladies. On the downside, a few sections of the text, as well as one or two of the characters stories (namely that of Greggie and the other elder ladies) are a little boring and don't seem to give much to the text, and at times Spark's style is just a little too understated (and comes off a little flat in these places), but 'The Girls of Slender Means' is, on the whole, a pensive and wholly worthwhile exploration of social and cultural issues, as well as general life, in the confines of a women's boarding house, even if it never hits the heady heights of the finest moments of works like 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars murial spark
Haven't had chance to read this yet but hope to do so soon. Saw the write up and thought it would be a good read.
Published 5 months ago by Christine M. Showell
3.0 out of 5 stars A look at life in an upper class "hostel"
It was an odd book darting back and forth before and after the death of one of the leading characters. Read more
Published 6 months ago by JoJo
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Slender Means Pun
This book is probably not to everyone's taste - it seeps 1945 London from every pore, so if you don't like petrol coupons, ration books, rare stockings and bomb sites then look... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Stuart Sussex Scribe
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic but slender novel
This is a classic novel, and enjoyable, but quite a slender work, too. The story is told well, but for the early pages especially there isn't much to it. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Roger Cowell
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
An involving classic which spawned a brilliant tv mini-series some 30 years ago. Still holds its own for a good read.
Published 15 months ago by P. Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving and poignant story
This delightfully short novella is set in the May of Teck Club, a hostel for middle class girls in post-war Kensington. Read more
Published 18 months ago by MalcolmT
4.0 out of 5 stars I would definitely recommend if you like Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
This charming novella very much seems like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie's older, darker, more experienced sister. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Susan Rose
4.0 out of 5 stars Youth's a stuff will not endure
On the wide, wide Edinburgh stage in 2009 with the dream team of Muriel Romanes directing, Judith Adams as adapter and Merle Hensel's design (in amazingly, the first Spark... Read more
Published on 2 Jan 2012 by Simon Barrett
1.0 out of 5 stars very dated wartime
Very disappointing, flat, mundane, no real storyline, and nothing new or exciting. A group of women and how they live at the end of the war in a hostel together culminating in an... Read more
Published on 28 July 2011 by scottish reader
4.0 out of 5 stars The Girls Of Slender Means
It would be foolish to judge an author by one book, especially one who was as prolific as Muriel Spark. Read more
Published on 25 April 2011 by N. A. Spencer
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