“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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