CDN$ 13.14
  • List Price: CDN$ 18.00
  • You Save: CDN$ 4.86 (27%)
FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25.
Usually ships within 2 to 5 weeks.
Ships from and sold by
Gift-wrap available.
Add to Cart
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 2 images

Finishing School Paperback – Apr 26 2005

See all 10 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
CDN$ 13.14
CDN$ 13.14 CDN$ 0.01

Join Amazon Student in Canada


Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin UK (April 26 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014100598X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141005980
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 118 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,336,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
'You begin,' he said, 'by setting your scene. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
Search inside this book:

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See both customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sir John Thomas, OBE on Dec 3 2008
Format: Hardcover
Short and sweet novella but not one of her best. I found it pleasant enough to read but the plot was just little too contrived and pat to be truly satisfying. Rowland really ought to have stabbed David to death in Chapter 3. I will mention this to Muriel next time I see her - maybe she could bang out a revised version.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Feb. 6 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a really good novella, about what can happen when you let jealousy begin to control your life.
The protagonist is the headmaster at a travelling Finishing School, and grows insanely jealous over a bright pupil who is writing a novel at age 17.
Though the ending leaves a lot to be desired, this book proves it can be the journey and not just the destination.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Sublimation in Switzerland Sept. 27 2004
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The last decade has been a productive if uneven period for novelist Dame Muriel Spark, whose dynamic career in literature has now spanned over half a century. 'All The Stories of Muriel Spark' was published in 2001, 'The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark' in 2003, both 'All the Poems of Muriel Spark' and a four-novel Modern Library omnibus were published earlier this year, and an idiosyncratic selection of her older fiction is currently in print. 1996 saw the release of 'Reality and Dreams,' one of Spark's rare outright failures, and 'Aiding and Abetting' debuted in 2000. But 'Aiding and Abetting' was sketchy and insubstantial, and something of a failure as well.

Thus the good news is that 'The Finishing School' (2004), Spark's 22nd novel, is worthy of taking its place on a lower rung among her second tier works (1958's 'Robinson,' 1960's 'The Ballad of Peckham Rye,' 1968's 'The Public Image,' and 1973's 'The Hothouse By the East River,' among others).

Happily, 'The Finishing School' has a brisk tone which most resembles that of 'Territorial Rights' (1979) and the greatly underrated 'Symposium' (1990), and, like those novels, concerns itself largely with life among the wealthy and the privileged. The institution in question is Sunrise College, a mobile school in Switzerland that in any given semester has only a handful of students enrolled. Ironically, Sunrise College never seems entirely credible, and throughout feels exactly like what it is in fact: a convenient and mutable creative device for its author's use.

Nonetheless, 'The Finishing School' is a deft, if slight, meditation on creative frustration, envy, competition, and emotional displacement.

Rowland Mahler, who teaches creative writing and runs the school with his wife, Nina, is attempting to write his long-planned first novel. But Rowland discovers that one of his young students, seventeen year-old Chris Wiley, has almost completed his own first novel on the life of Mary Queen of Scots. Dazed and dazzled, as is everyone else, by Chris's charm, confidence, productivity, and talent, Rowland finds his own ability to write disappearing, and his lofty private image of himself as an author-to-be suffering painfully.

When plucky Chris finds a publisher with apparent ease, Rowland's thwarted creative drive switches gears, transforming into a malevolent obsession with his formerly prized pupil and friend.

'The Finishing School' glides effortlessly across its own clever and glossy surfaces, reflecting evidence of Spark's talent, but not her genius. Spark once defended her occasionally harsh treatment of her characters by asserting that "they're just words," something certainly true of all the characters here except Rowland and Chris, who tend towards the three dimensional without ever quite arriving there.

Over the decades, the author has stated on multiple occasions that her novels are primarily intended as "entertainment," and 'The Finishing School,' a novella which casts a very short shadow, does succeed at being that.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Slim of plot, but acute in its scrutiny of artistic jealousy Oct. 23 2004
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Finishing School" is a thread-bare novella--a sketch, really--about jealousy and the creative process. Rowland Mahler and his wife, Nina, operate College Sunrise, a post-secondary school which moves from one European location to another, not merely for a change in ambience but mostly to outrun the school's piling debts. While Nina manages the school, Rowland is supposed to be writing his novel, but he's suffering from an intractable case of writer's block.

To put it more accurately: "Rowland was simply going mad with jealousy about the writing of novels." One of the school's students, the handsome and popular Chris Wiley, is discovered writing his own book--a historical work about Mary, Queen of Scots. Soon enough, Chris's novel has attracted both the attention of several publishers and the murderous envy of Rowland, who whines that Chris is "trying to pass himself off as a creative writer, when all he's doing is exploiting his looks and his youth." And Chris, in turn, discovers that he is unable work on his book without the motivating presence of Rowland's jealousy.

Added to this plot are a few random descriptions of the other students (and their familial backgrounds) and some generally blithe comments about society ("it's hypocrisy that makes the world go round"), etiquette ("if you are offered a plover's egg as a want your right hand to be free to shake someone else's hand [so] your left hand should hold the plover's egg"), and liberalism in education (Nina obliges when the students want "to be reminded of what an exam was like").

The slightness of Spark's 23nd novel is more than compensated by the sharpness of its observations on creativity and competitiveness. Like other British comedies of manners, "The Finishing School" is slim of plot and of character; instead, it's a work to be savored for its conciseness, its cynicism, and its occasional mean-spiritedness.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An original and entertaining novella Sept. 8 2005
By HORAK - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Rowland Mahler and his wife Nina founded the College Sunrise in Ouchy, Switzerland. They are respectively 29 and 26 and they have nine students. Rowland teaches creative writing and in his spare time he aspires to become a novelist. But then his seventeen year old student Chris Wiley starts writing a novel about Mary Queen of Scots entitled "Who Killed Darnley" and Rowland suffers from writing block because he is jealous of the ease with which Chris's writing progresses. Rowland can't understand why his teenage pupil is able to write like a professional, how he can manage language so wonderfully and with so little experience. Nothing compared with his own dismal efforts at mediocre prose.

But as the reader progresses along the plot, he realises that nothing in Mrs Spark's novel is as it seems. The characters are well drawn, the scenes are often very amusing because they are laced with acute and witty observations about authors, publishers, school life, marital relationships and more generally about present day preoccupations.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Not Sparks' best, but a fine close to a great career June 25 2006
By Richard R. Horton - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Muriel Spark continued to produce excellent stuff to the end of her life. Her first novel appeared some 50 years ago. Her last (assuming there is no posthumous work awaiting publication) was The Finishing School. Like most of her novels, it is very short (in the neighborhood of 30,000 words), and sardonic in tone. It invites comparison with her most famous novel, _The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie_, in being about a school and about the relationship of a teacher to the students.

The Finishing School is set at College Sunrise, a school run by Rowland Mahler, a 29 year old who had a long ago success with a play and is now frustratedly trying to write a novel, and his wife Nina Parker. The school moves each term -- in part, it is suggested, to escape bill collectors. It is in Switzerland this term. There are nine students, apparently all around 17 years old, presumably having finished high school or the European equivalent, and now being "finished" -- either to head on to University or to other pursuits. One of the students, Chris, is writing an historical novel about Mary Queen of Scots.

The fulcrum of the novel is Rowland's jealousy of Chris. It becomes clear that this jealousy, ostensibly of the likely smashing success of his novel, has a homoerotic component. (Even though both parties are apparently heterosexual -- Rowland is married, though his wife is having an affair and plans to leave him, while Chris seduces several women during the course of the book.) Rowland spends much of his time fantasizing about killing Chris. Chris, meanwhile, ignores his classes, writes his novel in secret, and entertains visits from publishers and film producers.

Flitting around this central conflict are the problems of the other students and staff. One girl plans to become a minister (shades of the nun-to-be in Prime), another's father is suspected of smuggling, a couple are trying to arrange to get married to one or another of the boy students. The staff are involved as well, sleeping with the students on occasion, and planning their own futures. And the neighbors, a young woman and her somewhat older nephew, are also drawn into the intrigue.

It is told, as ever with Spark, in a very spare fashion. Several months pass quickly, odd people are described doing odd things in the most deadpan of fashions, and by the end we know them fairly well and we know their fates. It is dryly funny, enjoyable to read and archly believable despite all the unusual characters. It is not, I think, nearly as good as Spark's best work -- in part it is not really about as much, I don't think -- but it is a fine piece of fiction.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
The literary equivalent of empty calories Dec 31 2004
By Debra Hamel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Rowland and Nina Mahler run an itinerant finishing school, College Sunrise, located for the time being in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rowland, an aspiring novelist, teaches the school's nine students creative writing, while Nina-whose fondest desire, strangely enough, is to be married to a scholar-instructs them in etiquette. ("There's no need to jump to your feet if one of your friend's parents comes into the room, far less your own. It looks too well trained.") Problems develop during the year described in Muriel Sparks' The Finishing School when Rowland conceives a powerful jealousy of 17-year-old student Chris Wiley. Chris is at the school to work on his own book, a historical novel about the murder of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots, that takes jealousy as its theme. Chris manages to interest publishers and film producers in his unfinished manuscript with unlikely and, for Rowland, maddening ease. With Rowland's marriage suffering as a result of his obsession with Chris and with Chris himself showing signs of instability, with several of the book's characters announcing that the situation is ripe for murder, the end of the school year holds the promise of high drama.

Not that high drama is in fact delivered. Nor will readers care very much how the year wraps up for the College Sunrise students and faculty, for we never come to know the characters of Sparks' short book. Most are one-dimensional creatures whose names one needn't bother remembering from one page to the next. The two characters whose emotions are explored in the book-Rowland and Chris-are only slightly more fleshed out. Throughout, Sparks keeps readers at an emotional distance, "telling" rather than "showing," the reverse of the old saw about writing: "Nina now perceived that Rowland's jealousy was an obsession." Sparks' prose, sometimes stilted, fails to charm. ("The Sunrise group comprised eight, the ninth, Princess Tilly, having a pain in her stomach and so forced to lie on a sofa for some hours, on this her bad day of the month.") When the end comes-an abrupt section in which the characters' fates are revealed à la the film Animal House-one feels that one has read the literary equivalent of empty calories.

Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece

Product Images from Customers


Look for similar items by category