The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

Penguin, 2008? (a later reprint of the 1966 edition,) 143 p.

The Girls of Slender Means cover

This is the tale of the young ladies of the title, residents at the May of Teck Club, opposite Kensington Gardens, in the summer of 1945, taking in both VE and VJ days; or to be more accurate, it is the tale of Nicholas Farringdon, “anarchist” and writer, who is introduced to the club by the secretary of the publisher he is trying to get to buy his book The Sabbath Notebooks and who forms an attachment to another resident, Selina. The story is framed by the news of Farringdon’s death as a missionary in Haiti and perhaps explains why he tended up taking that path. 1945 is described in the first and last sentences as long ago, yet was only 18 years before the book’s first publication date. Still, the intervening 18 years might have seemed like a lifetime in those less eventful post-war days.

The book feels a slight work. It is barely more than a novella and while it has a tragedy at its core (not a spoiler as Spark herself tells us so early on) there is not really much more to it.

For such a lauded writer I find Spark curiously unsatisfying. She tends to tell us about her characters rather than reveal them and has a propensity to overuse the repetition of phrases. While emphasis on Joanna’s recitation of The Wreck of the Deutschland is warranted by the plot other such instances are not. And I hate the spelling “connexion”.

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