- Audio Download
- Listening Length: 3 hours and 44 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Canongate Books
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 18 Oct. 2012
- Language: English
- ASIN: B009SHA826
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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The Girls of Slender Means Audiobook – Unabridged
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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.
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.
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'.