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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Muriel Spark - The Girls of Slender Means

 reviewed on a recorded bookshow by Ro Bennett  aired 28 Feb 2013.

London 1945. The war is grinding to a halt and the city begins to embrace the hordes who gather to hear the political speeches of the day. And in the tightly knit world of a Kensington hostel a bevy of well bred girls of slender means and intriguing morals are leading lives of ritual femininity, plotting amongst themselves for the suitors who call to confer favours of clothing coupons, meals and more - until the interlude of innocence is destroyed by the tragedy and horror of the times. 

I enjoyed the book. It was clever and beautifully written, gently humorous and it particularly interested me because it described London in 1945.  I was born in 1945 in Queen Charlotte’s hospital and we lived near St John’s Wood, not that far from Kensington. 

The story is based in the 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 are all working as clerks or secretaries and living on rations, clothing coupons and hand outs from admiring men. 

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.

It’s a short book, but a lot is packed into it. The characters are well defined, I really felt I got to know them. The story ambles along in a genteel manner and then suddenly - Bang! I wasn’t expecting the sudden turn of events. For me it was a good read and I would recommend it.

Muriel Spark also wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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