This is just the third book by Spark which I’ve read and I liked it better than the last one which was Memento Mori but I don’t think it was as good as The Girls of Slender Means. The Finishing School was first published in 2004 and it was her last published book, she died in 2004.
Nina Parker and Rowland Mahler are a young married couple who set up a finishing school for both sexes and any nationality. College Sunrise, as it’s called, was originally started in Brussels but in an effort to make it more successfull and pay more they’ve started moving the school to a different country each year. It’s put forward as being an exciting experiment and it seems to go down well with the parents.
The main reason for running the school is to give Rowland time to concentrate on his own writing and he hopes to become a novelist. The only work which he does is teaching the creative writing class and everything else is done by poor Nina.
One of the students is a 17 year old boy called Chris Wiley and he is writing a novel too and when Rowland reads the beginning of it he is shocked at how good it is and is consumed with jealousy. Rowland isn’t able to write anything at all and he is obsessed by Chris and his novel.
Chris’s novel is about the murders of Mary Queen of Scots musician, Rizzio, and her husband Darnley. Jealousy was supposedly the reason for Rizzio’s murder but Chris has a new theory about Darnley’s murder and the small community in the school sort of mirrors his idea of the atmosphere of the court of Mary Stuart, with jealousy, lust and obsession playing their part.
Meanwhile Nina carries on with the teaching and it’s this part of the book which gives the humour as Nina imparts supposedly important pieces of information to her students like: If you get a job with the UN and you are chased by a large python, run away in a zig-zag movement, as a python can’t coordinate its head with its tail. and even dafter advice.
Anyway, it was a fairly enjoyable and quick read at just 155 pages.