“The Finishing School” is Muriel Spark’s 22nd and final novel, published in 2004 when she was 87.
Like famous novel, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, it is about a school and about the relationship of a teacher to the students.
Rowland and Nina Mahler, a married couple in their late twenties, run College Sunrise, a small finishing school.
Rowland success with a play he wrote some years ago, but his subsequent efforts were rejected out of hand. Now he is writing a novel, but he is struggling and the excerpt quoted make it clear that it is awful.
The school moves each year – maybe, it is suggested, to escape creditors. It is in Lausanne, Switzerland as this story unfolds.
Rowland enjoys his role of professorial writer while Nina teaches most of the other classes and administers the school. Nina dreams of being married to a scholar and realizes that her relationship with Rowland is drawing to a close. She is not unhappy about this and has even begun planning the next phase of her life.
There are nine students at College Sunrise including Princess Tilly, though where she is a Princess nobody knows; Opal, whose father is going through bankruptcy; Pallas Kapelas of Greece, whose father may be a spy and, most significantly, Chris Wiley, who for some reason thought the College would be the perfect place to write his novel.
Rowland reads the first few chapters of Chris’s novel and is shocked at how good it is. Jealousy takes over he does everything within his power to play down his opinion of the fledgling book and Chris’s chances of success. As the story progress s he advances from subtle editorial criticism of the Novel to out and out sabotage of Chris’s contacts with publishers.
Chris is completely aware of Rowland’s maneuvers and of the consuming jealousy that Rowland feels towards him. He flaunts his success in front of Rowland at every opportunity. It seems that Chris has the upper hand.
But is everything as it seems? Is Chris dependent on Rowland’s jealousy? Could the journal that Nina suggests Rowland writes to help cope with his feelings the best bit of writing of all?
The plot skips along, but it does leave you yearning for a little more knowledge.
The supporting cast has great potential but, sadly it is not realized and they just seem to drop in and out of the story as required to tell the stories of the main characters.
As ever though with Muriel Spark, the story exhibits dry wit, is enjoyable to read and believable, in spite of a strange mix of characters.
“The Finishing School” does not quite rank with Muriel Spark’s best works, but her earlier books set the standard so high that even a little below par she is a wonderfully readable writer.