I have to admit that I didn't read The Girls Of Slender Means by Muriel Spark on this trip but it is a book worth reading and one that I find my mind drifting back to because it was so ahead of its time, so innocently charming and so strangely memorable. Here's why.
What's it all about? The Girls Of Slender Means are residents of the Kensington based May of Teck Club, which was established for "the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London" and this story recalls a number of their stories, and those of their gentlemen-friends, during the Second World War from workplace woes to sneaking men out of the building and most charmingly the sharing one splendid Schiaperelli dress.
What's so good about it? Published in 1963, on the cusp of a sexual revolution Muriel Spark captures the desire for sexual independence among young single woman in London so timelessly that it was impossible not to relate to characters and the underlying subtext as a 20 something year old female who for seven years lived and worked in London striving for a successful career, a fulfilling love life and a little change in my back pocket.
Who, me? It's not just a book about girls for girls. Thanks to her own personal experience of a similar "club for young women" in the capital during WWII, Spark captures a period of time in London that was so unique and peace and God-willing, will never be experienced again, and against this backdrop she creates alarmingly real and delightfully flawed characters to negotiate several serious observations about war, sexuality and gender.
As a side note, Muriel Spark is also a brilliant writer and I have to quote this line from the book which captures its essence so well. "As they realised themselves in varying degrees, few people alive at the time were more delightful, more ingenius, more movingly lovely, and, as it might happen, more savage, than the girls of slender means."
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Frances M. Thompson
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