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The Finishing School Paperback – 28 Apr 2005

3.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (28 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014100598X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141005980
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 0.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 689,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The elegantly written The Finishing School reminds us again of Muriel Spark's unique talent, combining a wry sympathy for human behaviour with a clear-eyed assessment of our foibles. All her books, from the The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to the lesser known volumes, possess an insinuating charm and an understated but often lethal satirical thrust; few middle-class absurdities have gone unanalysed.

The Finishing School is concise but it has all the insinuating charm of her best work. Rowland Mahler and his wife Nina run a mixed-sex finishing school called College Sunrise. Rowland has aspirations as a novelist but he has an unconscious rival--a talented pupil, Chris--whose literary efforts effortlessly outpace Rowland's. Soon a poisonous atmosphere suffuses the school as Rowland falls prey to agonies of jealousy. Spark has always been good at the tensions and rivalries of the school environment, and her touch is as sure as ever in this highly diverting piece. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An empress of literary sleight of hand. . . . What grace and beauty she's still displaying during the golden days and starlit nights of her absolutely marvelous career." -"The Washington Post""Ingeniously comic. . . . Spark has packed a multitude of twists and turns into this relatively brief novel, and the action skims along merrily from one surprising revelation to the next." -"Los Angeles Times Book Review"""The Finishing School "has all the ingredients of her best-known fiction." -"The New York Times""Delicious. . . . A deft new comic novel. . . . Spark remains a master of quick-stroke portraiture and trenchant moral investigation." -"The Seattle Times""A youthful academic comedy. . . . Her style . . . remains as sharp, even shocking, as it's always been." -"The New York Times Book Review"

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Muriel Spark can always be relied upon to spin a cracking yarn, make you laugh and open your eyes to something new at the same time. Her characters are quirky and alive and they always have something dubious lurking at the core. Her writing is sharp and has a punch and a dry sly wit. She's one of my favourite writers. But this isn't one of her best books. The Finishing School is about obsession, envy, jealousy, and the vicissitudes of the creative process - all very interesting themes. The story is about a would-be novelist's rivalry with another would-be novelist (one's older, the teacher, the other's younger, the student, so plenty scope for Oedipal stuff there); they sort of lock horns and the horns stay locked in some interesting ways. The Finishing School is also a novel about writing a novel (NOT in the same league as Loitering With Intent, be warned). Muriel Spark always has plenty important things to say about people, and situations, and relationships, human nature, creativity, and so on, and her observations usually fascinate with their astuteness and their wit. Usually she can be relied upon to say what she wants to say completely convincingly, with her natural blend of perfect prose, impeccable dialogue, her cool, biting humour. Not so in The Finishing School. Much of the story is 'told' rather than 'shown' so as a reader you don't find much room for manoeuvre. The characters, even the main characters, are pretty thinly sketched (a bit like the people in a Lowry painting) and a tad annoying. Unusually too, I was aware of the crafting of plot going on throughout the book.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nine teenagers from wealthy families attend a rather fly-by-night finishing school in Switzerland run by Rowland Mahler and his wife Nina. Roland teaches creative writing, Nina teaches etiquette. Both of them are somewhat fraudulent. Rowland is trying to write a novel, but can't get on with it. He has read the enviably brilliant opening pages of a novel written by one of his students, the self-confident 17 year old Chris Wiley, who, after that, will not show him work in progress. Rowland's envy of Chris begins to obsess his entire life, driving him into mental illness. Chris notices this; it becomes a stimulus for his own work, and he seems to enjoy torturing Rowland.

That is the gist of this slight novella of 156 pages. I can't quite believe in Rowland. Nina is more credible. The other teenagers are merely sketched in. I don't think much of the ending: it seems forced and rushed, as if Muriel Spark were herself in a hurry to end the book somehow. But she writes so easily and entertainingly that it's a pleasant enough read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was hoping for more unexpected vulgarity based on the opening page, which includes a very funny bit of Spark humour. Unfortunately, I was never fully engaged with the rest of this short story and the denoument felt a bit sudden and unlikely. It was an ok read but it hasn't inspired me to follow up other Spark works.
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Format: Paperback
Rowland Mahler and his wife Nina founded the College Sunrise in Ouchy, Switzerland. They are respectively 29 and 26 and they have nine students. Rowland teaches creative writing and in his spare time he aspires to become a novelist. But then his seventeen year old student Chris Wiley starts writing a novel about Mary Queen of Scots entitled "Who Killed Darnley" and Rowland suffers from writing block because he is jealous of the ease with which Chris's writing progresses. Rowland can't understand why his teenage pupil is able to write like a professional, how he can manage language so wonderfully and with so little experience. Nothing compared with his own dismal efforts at mediocre prose.
But as the reader progresses along the plot, he realises that nothing in Mrs Spark's novel is as it seems. The characters are well drawn, the scenes are often very amusing because they are laced with acute and witty observations about authors, publishers, school life, marital relationships and more generally about present day preoccupations.
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By hiljean VINE VOICE on 6 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
Oh dear, this is not one of Spark's best by any means. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of my all-time favourite books, fizzing with wit, written with great economy, and completely satisfying. This, in contrast, is a slim volume that delivers very little. I will not repeat the plot which has been outlined by other reviewers, but I found it barely credible, and the setting of the finishing school in the early 21st century failed to convince on any level. The characters are very two-dimensional and speak in unnatural, stilted dialogue. Some of the scenes seem superfluous (that silly fashion show which again did not ring true) and I found I just could not believe in the characters, the setting, or the plot. Particularly hollow is Rowland's jealousy of Chris's novel when this is denounced by the first publisher as "a pile of s***). If Rowland really believed it to be good he is not the best person to be teaching creative writing nor working on his own book!

The ending is preposterous, and as other reviewers have pointed out, seems hurried. Spark resorts to listing over two pages what happened to the characters of the novel, as though she seems to feel she must tie up any loose ends. This is disappointing in such a highly regarded writer. Some of the best novels leave the reader to make up their own minds about how things turn out . . .

If you haven't read any Muriel Spark before, don't start with this one.
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