Review: The Finishing School by Muriel Spark–UPDATED


“Be careful who takes you to Ascot…because, unless you have married a rich husband, he is probably a crook. Even if he’s your husband, well….Not many honest men can take four days off their work, dress themselves in a black suit and a silk hat with all the accoutrements, and lose a lot of money on the horses, and take you out afterward or join a party of people like him. For Ascot you will need warm underwear in case it’s cold. You can wear a flimsy dress on top. But your man is bound to be a crook, bound to be….”

My Interest

“In order to succeed with the public you have to be a hypocrite up to a definite point…..It’s hypocrisy,…that makes the world round. …”

Muriel Spark is an author whose backlist I am slowly reading my way through. I started this book hoping to finish it for Novellas in November, but then I lost my job. Last Thursday, S.W. Ohio was hit with an ice storm and the power was out for most of 24 hours. It was dark, I had thought to have emergency candles, but forgot a means to light them! Typical. Flashlights haven’t survived in my house since my son arrived. I no longer even think to have one. Happily, my phone had about 75% of its battery life so I could use its flashlight feature when necessary. Meanwhile, I pulled out my Kindle wanting to read the book I had just started. Seems I had sent it to my Kindle, but hadn’t bothered to download it. Typical. So, I looked around and spotted this one. I easily recalled what I’d read and who was who and decided I’d challenge the prompt telling me it was 1 hour and 22 minutes to finish the book. I did it.

“‘Do you have to be a hypocrite if you have a career in the Church?’ ‘Oh, yes [it] applies to the Church very much.’ “The Anglican Church?’ ‘Any church.'”

The Story

“…it was know that there had so far been no sexual scandals and that it was an advanced sort of school, bohemian, artistic, tolerant. What they smoked or sniffed was little different from the drug-taking habits of any other school….”

If you were expecting The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie The Younger, you are in for a huge disappointment. This book was the last Spark wrote and frankly, wasn’t up to her usual standard. Set in an odd boutique-sized finishing school run by Rowland and his wife Nina, it boasts seven “real” students and Chris. The school exists as a parking place for rich kids with nothing else to do until the head off to University. In the early years of computers and email gap years were just emerging. Finishing school was the stop-gap.

“No longer a boy student, he was now a meaning, an explanation in himself.”

Rowland is writing a novel and so is Chris. Chris isn’t enrolled as a student, but he does attend a few of the interest-driven classes that go with his own interests. At 17 he is writing a historical novel for which he has a publisher and possible movie option. Rowland is obsessed with Chris. Rowland’s wife just wants to get through the term and then get on with her life–preferably without Rowland. She asks herself in what I assume was the British lingo of that day, if he could be an “unconscious” homosexual. But Chris, in true Finishing School style is bonking (a great British term from that era) just about everything female in the school. Poor Rowland’s obsession takes over and he must go off to get himself back together. Until Chris shows up….. That’s the way this story goes.

My Thoughts

“If it can be said of you that you’ve got ‘exquisite manners,’ it’s deadly….Try not to look very well brought up, it’s awful.”

If this was anyone by Muriel Spark I don’t think they would have published this–though admittedly, much, much worse is published today. I began to wonder if this was a first draft she’d dictated by phone. When I saw it was published two years before she died I think I may have been right. The characters were just flat. Even Rowland’s obsession was flat. I did sort of come to like Nina. And I enjoyed P

Oh, it isn’t an awful book. It’s just the name Muriel Spark conjures up way better stories to be read than this. I’m glad I’ve checked it off the backlist, but I can’t say you’d miss anything by skipping it. There was no sex or anything needing a trigger warning at least.

My Verdict


That’s being extra generous because it was an excellent writer’s last effort.

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

My Other Reviews of Muriel Spark books:

Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark My review was lost on my old blog, but this quote stays with me always: “Not really a presence….The lack of an absence….”

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry from Kensington were read way before even the Internet was with us.

ERC 2022

11 thoughts on “Review: The Finishing School by Muriel Spark–UPDATED

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    1. Jobs? Grim. I can’t move which doesn’t help but honestly? Getting a new job at 60 is a real crap-shoot. I’m hopeful about a “lifeboat job” at local hospital. I should be writing, but nothing is happening but job hunting–it takes so much time. Thanks for caring 🙂


      1. From all you hear about that in the press you’d think so, but, I haven’t found any that liked my resume. Of course, if I want a customer service job taking complaints I could probably start today. Not ready for that yet. I have a 2nd interview for a job on Tuesday, The same long commute as before, but South, across the river in Kentucky so terrible pay, but it’s a start. Thanks for caring!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m sure I’ve read something by Spark but I don’t know what. In any case, if I haven’t I don’t think this one should be my starting point. Nice review! (Oh, and sorry about the job and the storms… take care of yourself, and good luck on the work front!)


      1. Of course! Prime of Miss Jean Brodie! I read it in High School. I knew I had read Spark! We actually put the play version of it on when I was there. I’ll check out these other two – thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your excellent review and will skip this one if I ever get around to reading any of Muriel Sparks books. I am familiar with Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but I believe I saw the movie and didn’t read the book. Sorry about the storms you got. My daughter in Grove City said it was bad there. So much ice! But no power outage. I am routing for you in your job search. Good luck.


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