|Author Muriel Spark|
The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
by Muriel Spark
Muriel Spark started with four titles in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books, after the 2008 revision she was reduced to two titles, this one, and The Prime of Ms. Brodie. Muriel Spark sits on the border of "light" and "serious" fiction. The Prime of Ms. Brodie was an out-and-out mass market hit and my sense is that critical acclaim followed her popular success. It's difficult to imagine Spark being read in a college literature course, leaving her a contemporary audience of fans of 20th century English literature and fans of "light" literature.
Despite the airy appearance of The Girls of Slender Means, it carries substantial allegorical weight. According to the 1001 Books editorial entry, The Girls of Slender Means is a reworking of the Gerald Manley Hawkins poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland. An audio recording by one of the slender girls reading the poem is a prominent plot point in this book, so it's not Spark hides the ball exactly, but you'd have to know the poem to get any kind of connection between the two.
The title refers to a young woman's boarding house, the time is London at the very end of World War II, and just after. The framing narrative involves one of the former housemates researching the life of a young intellectual who has just been "martyred" as a Catholic missionary in Haiti. In the process, she considers the events immediately prior to the destruction of the house at the hands of some unexploded ordinance.
If you don't catch the extended reference to The Wreck of the Deutschland, the setting o war time London is enough to keep you occupied for the 167 pages of this novella. Not a very good money value if you were looking to buy a copy.