"A delicious, sensory overload of future gothic." (Ghost) Neil Cooper
"The May of Teck Club exists 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."
"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."
The Girls of Slender Means is about money and the lack of it and sex and the ease of it in the euphoria of 1945, when the dark abyss of Fascism seems to be healing over, and the bright world of the Twenties and early Thirties might glisten again, newly minted.
It is the story of a handsome, romantic man who poses as a cynic, and a beautiful, cynical young woman, who appears to be the quintessence of romantic innocence but has in fact been corrupted by beauty and its needs in a capitalist world.
The image at the heart of the piece is a chiffon dress designed by Schiaparelli, the gift of a rich aunt to a penurious niece, a piece of common rented currency among the girls of the May of Teck Club by which to purchase a lover, or a husband's devotion and compliance.
What else can a girl do? The skill is to do it very well: elegantly and thoroughly trouncing patriarchy at its own game.
"Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity of body and mind, complete composure whatever the social scene. Elegant dress, immaculate grooming, and perfect deportment all contribute to the attainment of self-confidence."
This is the hauntingly lovely Selina Redwood's mantra, the flower of her five guinea correspondence course in Poise, to be repeated twice daily. It is her passport, years later, to a stellar career on the catwalk while the man she leaves behind her dies a martyr's death in Haiti.
Between VE Day and VJ Day, May to August 1945, something apocalyptic occurs in the lives of the girls which causes Nicholas Farringdon to lose his faith and become a Catholic priest through discovering something as awful on a personal scale as the Hiroshima explosion is on a global: a vision of pure evil.
Between VE Day and VJ Day, as the war-shaken May of Teck Club collapses in its very own peace-time holocaust, the world loses the last vestiges of its torn and tattered innocence, slips between the sheets with Mammon and goes to the Devil as simply as a beautiful young girl slips into the chiffon folds of an expensive dress for her night out.
Muriel Spark's novels linger in the mind as brilliant shards, decisive as a smashed glass is decisive John Updike, New Yorker
Windows were important in that year of final reckoning; they told at a glance whether a house was inhabited or not; and in the course of the past years they had accumulated much meaning, having been the main danger-zone between domestic life and the war going on outside: everyone had said, when the sirens sounded,"Mind the windows. Keep away from the windows. Watch out for the glass." Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means, Chapter One.