The Girls of Slender Means (New Directions Classic)
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"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions," begins The Girls of Slender Means, Dame Muriel Spark's tragic and rapier-witted portrait of a London ladies' hostel just emerging from the shadow of World War II.
Like the May of Teck Club itself—"three times window shattered since 1940 but never directly hit"—its lady inhabitants do their best to act as if the world were back to normal: practicing elocution, and jostling over suitors and a single Schiaparelli gown. The novel's harrowing ending reveals that the girls' giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragically painful war wounds.
Chosen by Anthony Burgess as one of the Best Modern Novels in the Sunday Times of London, The Girls of Slender Means is a taut and eerily perfect novel by an author The New York Times has called "one of this century's finest creators of comic-metaphysical entertainment."
was a work of genius. Not that he believed it to be so one way or the other, the idea of such an unspecific attribute as genius not being one on which his mind was accustomed to waste its time. However, he knew a useful word when he saw it, and, perceiving the trend of Jane’s question, made his plan. He said, ‘Tell me again that delightful thing Selina repeats about poise.’ ‘Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity of body and mind, complete composure whatever the social scene. Elegant dress,
notion that their vehicles were supplied by ‘American’ oil, and so were not subject to the conscience of British austerity or the reproachful question about the necessity of the journey displayed at all places of public transport. Jane, observing Selina’s long glance of perfect balance and equanimity resting upon Nicholas, immediately foresaw that she would be disposed in the front seat with Felix while Selina stepped, with her arch-footed poise, into the back, where Nicholas would join her; and
set in a wide porch, to look out at the summer evening like a shopkeeper waiting for custom. Greggie always behaved as if she owned the club. The gong was about to sound quite soon. Anne kicked her cigarette-stub into a dark corner. Greggie called over her shoulder, ‘Anne, here comes your boy-friend.’ ‘On time, for once,’ said Anne, with the same pretence of scorn that she had adopted when referring to her brother Geoffrey: ‘Geoffrey would be the last person I would consult.’ She moved, with
promised to take him to the demolished house in Kensington Road. The father had reminded Nicholas of this several times as if afraid he might inattentively leave London with this duty unfulfilled. ‘I’ll walk along with you.’ ‘Well, if it’s not out of your way I’ll be much obliged. What do you make of this new bomb? Do you think it’s only propaganda stuff?’ ‘I don’t know, sir,’ said Nicholas. ‘It leaves one breathless with horror. They’ll have to make an armistice if it’s true.’ He looked
the walls would have remained grey and stricken like everyone else’s. Boy-friends were allowed to dine as guests at a cost of two-and-sixpence. It was also permitted to entertain in the recreation room, on the terrace which led out from it, and in the drawing-room whose mud-brown walls appeared so penitential in tone at that time – for the members were not to know that within a few years many of them would be lining the walls of their own homes with paper of a similar colour, it then having