Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Girls of Slender Means - Muriel Spark

First published 1963; cover shown is the 1966 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover art by Robert Croxford. 142 pages.

Not a crime/mystery novel, but worthy of a review nonetheless!

According to Muriel Spark, in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor (allowing for exceptions). This is the story of a small group of these people: several dozen single women ("Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years") residing in mutual near-poverty in The May of Teck Club.

WWII is coming to an end, but food continues to be rationed and clothing can only be purchased with coupons. The girls of The May of Teck work at their office jobs by day and spend their nights dining and dancing with ever-changing boyfriends, swapping coupons, rummaging in each other's food cupboards and sharing a much-coveted Schiaparelli evening dress.

Nicholas Farringdon, a would-be poet, is introduced to hostel life by Jane, one of The May of Teck girls. Nicholas comes to love every aspect of the club's life: the seemingly happy embracing of poverty by the girls, the boyfriend sharing - even the constant silk stocking repairs. A self-proclaimed anarchist, he comes to believe that the club is its own perfect world. He falls in love with Selina, the club's acknowledged beauty. It's a love that isn't returned on a deeper level, but it will take a while for Nicholas to realise that.

When tragedy strikes thanks to a bomb in the backyard and a subsequent fire, The May of Teck Club is no more. Also no more is one of the most integral members of the club... and all of Nicholas' dreams for the future.

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