Top positive review
12 people found this helpful
on 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. It's a delightful comedic mix but as tragedy erupts the girls' lives are changed forever and the world of the May Teck Club comes to an end - reflecting back the demise and changes that the war has made on Britain and the Edwardian way of life.
This is written with great finesse and empathy for the girls and their situation. It's a shame it is so short but that is a characteristic of all Muriel Spark's books -and I shall now be seeking them out.