Saturday 6 April 2024

All the nice people were poor

The Girls of Slender Means

If your reading preference is for door-stop sized sagas featuring families or fantasies, Muriel Sparks's 134-page The Girls of Slender Means may not appeal. The girls in question are aged under thirty, living away from home at the May of Teck Club, and starting out on their working lives. It reminded me of all-female halls of residence at university.

The opening chapters set the scene in London at the end of WW2, between VE Day and VJ Day, and introduce the shocking news that Nicholas Farringdon, the "one that got on to the roof to sleep out with Selina", has been "martyred". The middle of the book recounts how Nicholas came to be introduced to the Club, and establishes the characters of several of the girls: Jane Wright, my favourite, who hopes to become a writer; Joanna Childe, training to be an elocution teacher; and at 'the top of the house, on the fourth floor, the most attractive, sophisticated and lively girls', including the beautiful Selina, and Anne, who loans her 'Schiaparelli taffeta evening dress' in return for ration coupons and other items.

For logophiles there are lots of poetry quotes to follow up, and the description of life at the end of WW2 is well drawn. In the last two chapters many seemingly trivial previous scenes are revealed to be important, and life turns very alarming. Everything comes together in the most clever and satisfying way, and you're left wondering why Muriel Spark isn't as feted as other writers.

No comments:

Post a Comment