Review of ‘The Girls of Slender Means’ by Muriel Spark

I had no idea where the plot of this slender novel was going. I like books which are surprising and also have a literary theme, so this one was a winner. I preferred it to Loitering With Intent but I enjoyed A Far Cry from Kensington more.

Book cover, showing young women in 1940s dresses.

The year is 1945 and the setting is the May of Teck Club, a hostel in Blitzed London which is home to young women who are hoping for either marriage or careers. They share one ball-gown between them and cultivate friendships with American soldiers for goods not available with ration coupons. The narrative darts between this era and the near future, with news of the martyrdom of a literary young man who used to be friends with the girls of the Club. It’s an unusual read and while I wasn’t sure what to make of it in the early chapters, by the end I thought it was brilliant. I think that novels set in the 1940s by authors who lived through those turbulent times are very interesting, because although it was, as Spark says at the end of this book, ‘long ago’ in the 1960s, it was comparatively recent from today’s perspective.

First published in 1963. This edition by Penguin, 2013.

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