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Summary

It is 1945; a time of cultural and political change, and also one of slender means. Spark's evocative and sharply drawn novel focuses on a group of women living together in a hostel in Kensington who face new challenges in uncertain times. The novel is at once dramatic and character-based, and shows Muriel Spark at the height of her literary powers.

Juliet Stevenson reads with her customary wit and intelligence this powerful masterpiece. Rediscover The Girls of Slender Means in audiobook on the 100th anniversary of Muriel Spark's birth.

©2012 Canongate Books (P)2012 Canongate Books

What listeners say about The Girls of Slender Means

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Slender but spirited

If you like Muriel Spark, you will relish this. Read with great precision. A dry delight. Such a distinctive writing style works well as an audio book. Every word matters.

28 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Amusing tale of relationships in post-war London

Well written, witty and occasionally illuminating; read beautifully by Juliet Stevenson, whose different voices bring the characters to life. Relaxing to listen to, with an unexpected climax at the end.

19 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Slender indeed...

The May of Teck Club in London’s Kensington is a place for “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.” The book tells of the lives of the crop of “girls” in residence just as the war in Europe had ended in the summer of 1945. These girls may be somewhat impecunious, but they are not from the poorer classes of society – rather they are the daughters of the genteel and the minor upper-classes, and for most of them, their main occupation is to seek a suitable husband. While the rules state an upper age limit of thirty, a few women have stayed on, becoming almost surrogate matrons to the younger girls and desperately trying to stop the bright young things from allowing standards of behaviour to fall. There’s a bit of time-shifting in the book. As it begins, we’re in the ‘60s, when we learn of the death of Nicholas Farringdon, a man who used to be a frequent visitor to the club in 1945. He was in love with the beautiful, slinky Selina, who not only had slender means, but also hips so slender she was able to slither out of a small upstairs window for the purposes of having illicit sex on the roof. We see the story mainly through the eyes of Jane Wright, a resident of the club in the ‘40s, and now a journalist in the ‘60s, who wants to determine why, twenty years later, Nicholas should die a martyr in Haiti where he had gone off to be a Jesuit missionary. This is not out of any concern or warmth for him – she merely thinks she may be able to make a story for her paper out of it. In truth, though, the plot is negligible – for the most part we simply observe the girls as they go about their lives in the club, and we rarely step over the threshold into the wider world. The club is very much like the boarding schools as depicted in so many school series of that era – these girls may be older and sex may have replaced midnight feasts as their method of rebellion, but there’s the same kind of dynamics of different types of people having to learn to rub along together, and the same kind of loyalty to the club as schoolgirls show to their schools (in fiction). The girls have survived the war, but seem to have been relatively untouched by it. Some have worked in administrative and secretarial roles as part of the war effort, and are wondering what they will do now that peace will soon remove the need for them. We hear about how some have lost young men of their acquaintance, but their ghosts are not allowed to darken the tone. The girls are rather proud of the bomb that narrowly missed the club – they like to point out the damage to visitors – and there’s a rumour that another bomb is buried somewhere in the garden, unexploded. This is rather an odd little book and I’m not at all sure if it has some deep and profound meaning that was lost on me. From my perspective, to be honest, it read like a bit of well-written and sharply observed fluff. I know that sounds rather harsh and dismissive, but I kept waiting to be startled by great insights, to be blown away by the depth of the characterisation, as I was with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. But it never happened with this one. I enjoyed it – there’s a lot of humour in it and the girls were an entertaining bunch to spend time with. When I finished, however, I felt it had been something of a sorbet – delicious but hardly satisfying. I think I felt this way partly because the ‘slender means’ of these girls seems to relate as much to their shallow lives as to their financial status. In some ways, I felt Spark’s depiction of them was rather cruel, though undoubtedly amusing. I found myself laughing at the girls for the most part, rather than with them. Again, this was very different to my reaction to the girls and women in Miss Jean Brodie, who had my complete sympathy even when they were behaving rather badly. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Juliet Stevenson, which was something of a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed her straight narration of the narrative and her delivery of the girls’ dialogue, but I found her accents for two of the male characters, one Russian, one American, overdone and distracting. Perhaps I missed something in this book, or perhaps there’s not much there to be missed. In summary, an entertaining read that I enjoyed as it was happening but felt rather underwhelmed by in the end. I do recommend it for the writing, the observation and the humour, but I feel that anyone who loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie should lower their expectations a little before embarking on this one.

73 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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A slow start.

Juliet Stevenson was a wonderful narrator. Every character was differentiated and both male and female voices were excellent. I found I didn’t like any of the characters enough to love the book until almost the end. For me, it took too long to get going.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Perfection

Life in a hostel for young women in London at the end of World War 2. Immaculate reading by Juliet Stevenson of Muriel Spark’s unforgettable, sad and funny, novel.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great portrait of life in post war London

I did not know much about Muriel Spark before I listened to this other than she was the author of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which is a great story. The Girls of Slender Means is a short novel about life of a group of young women who live in a hostel, the May of Tech Club, in London which covers the period in 1945 from VE Day in May to VJ Day in August. The young ladies' wants and needs largely revolve around food and clothes rations' elocution and men. Some interesting and exotic characters crop up including communists and anarchists and although the story ambles around rather than going anywhere specific it is a good listen. Juliet Stevenson is, as always, an excellent narrator and she voices the characters perfectly.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Extremely good reading of a very enjoyable book

This is a very well observed tale of the neglected side of social history - the lives of women. The tale is based in a residential Club for women of a sort that no longer exists. The Club enabled women to live and work in London whilst unable to afford independent accomodation. The author narrates the tale from the view of a resident of the club. Whilst the events of the story make for an anjoyable read in themselves, and are revealed at just the right pace to keep you reading, it is the insights which the author gives you that are so fascinating. As the various women in the Club react to the events around them she brings out different views and opinions in a manner that is entirely believable and consistent with her characters. She also creates very understandable male characters where she needs them but it is the female voice that carries the story and the female viewpoint which makes it so interesting. I enjoyed this even more than The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the only other book I have read of hers, and would heartily recommend it to anyone for the story and even more so for the observations and inights. Juliet Stevenson's reading is excellent. She get just the right tone for each of the character to the extent that you cannot imagine how else they might have sounded. My benchmark for excellence for readers is Murial Margolyes's superb reading of Bleak House in the Audible Dickens Collection and this is up there with it.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Succinct and elegant writing

This “novelette” is set in immediate post II WW London. It’s a window into a crowd of predominantly women with a variety of personalities written in an amusing, succinct and elegant style. There is a dry English humour, with razor like descriptions and scenes that capture the spirit of the times; and I’m sure an autobiographical element in her experiences of residences from where she has drawn inspiration for her characters. Well crafted by MS and expertly performed by a narrator who could easily have been one of cast.

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Quietly Wonderful

This story of a group of women's friendship during WW2 is quaint but culminates in an eventful ending. Superboy narrated as usual by Juliet Stevenson, it is a real hidden gem.

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I really enjoyed it - had not much expected to

I heard about this book from BBC’s “A Good Read” and of course had already heard of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It’s not the kind of book I usually read but I think it was on sale in Audible so I decided to give it a go. It was cery well read/performed though without the Scottish accent I was expecting, I suppose because the story is set in London. The story was very entertaining and engrossing. I listened to all but the final hour in one “sitting” and even laughed out loud a few times. The writing was so well done and so easy to listen to that it made time pass so quickly. Highly recommended for a light, entertaining few hours.

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  • M. J. Walsh
  • 04-06-20

A fond remembrance

This short novel, based on life in a sort of middle class London hostel for well brought up young women, spans the months from VE day to VJ day in 1945. At first it seems slight and autobiographical but it grows in stature as it proceeds. Before the elegaic ending brings down the curtain, it has become a funny, touching, rewarding experience. A sense of fond remembrance is powerfully conveyed. Juliet Stevenson's superb reading could hardly be better and greatly enhances the book.