"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions…." Thus begins 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 building 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. But the novel's harrowing ending reveals that the girls' giddy literary and amorous peregrinations are hiding some tragically painful war wounds.
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In this slim tale centered around a London ladies’ hostel at the end of World War II, the titular girls are under thirty, working for a living, and waiting for their lives to start. The residents of the May of Teck Club include Selina Redwood, the local beauty with a heart of ice; Jane Martin, a brainy but overweight publishing professional who sells authors’ letters on the black market; Joanna Childe, the daughter of the country rector who now gives elocution lessons; and Pauline Fox, who dresses up in evening gowns and (delusionally) claims to have dinner with a famous actor every night. Times are tight: The girls share rationed soap and chocolate and pass around a single Elsa Schiaparelli dress. Years later, when a former hanger-on, the anarchist author Nicholas Farringdon, is discovered dead in Haiti, it is Jane who reconnects with her fellow residents to find out more about him, and the incidents that lead to his death. With her minimal, playful, unsentimental writing style, Spark dances over the characters and their shared tenuous moment in time before a tragedy will change everything. Girls is filled with nostalgia for young unmarried women in a strange but hopeful era.