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Peter the flautist

I haven't read Spark since I was a teenager (The Girls of Slender Means, The Balad of Peckham Rye etc.) and my reading of this book was coloured both by my memories of the film starring Maggie Smith and by recent personal circumstances which meant I read it with less attention than I might have done. I give this pre-amble because I didn't find it as wonderful as Cornflower did (and I expect I am going to be in a minority of one here) although I enjoyed reading it over one weekend. The writing is excellent, and it captures an Edinburgh that still existed a little when I grew up in the New Town in the 1960's (I just missed out on the trams though). I just felt the book was somehow less than I had hoped for, too slight in some way that I am ill equiped to properly articulate. So overall I was slightly disappointed; I would have liked to have had more exploration of Miss Brodie's motives and her enthusiasm for Fascism.
I didn't find myself feeling all that much sympathy for Miss Brodie, as I felt that she brought about her own downfall. That said had I been at the school I'm sure I would have enjoyed her classes the most!


Like Peter I didn't have much sympathy for Miss Brodie, but I did enjoy the book immensely. I first read it some years ago and it was just as good the second time round. I particularly liked the emphasis on character as the identity of Miss Brodie's betrayer is revealed early on in the book which means that then motives are under the spotlight rather than what happened - or didn't happen. I've written more about it on my blog. Not knowing Edinburgh that side of it didn't stick in my mind too much but I agree that the writing is excellent. I think that if the book had been longer it would have spoiled its tight structure - I thought it was just the right length. An excellent book.

adele geras

What struck me, rereading after many years and with still a very strong memory of the movie, was how much shorter it was than I remembered. Spark manages so brilliantly to convey a great deal very succinctly. The other thing that struck me was the great MODERNITY of the way it was written....with those glimpses into the future every so often, carrying the story beautifully beyond its boundaries. Brodie herself is one of those people who are probably most irritating in real life but who are terrific in fiction. It can't have been pleasant to be one of her class who was NOT a member of her group. The cruely of all sides of school life is very well done. I love this book and the cover is the one I have as well. That enhances it greatly. And Edinburgh is such a good background. I don't know the city very well, but have loved it on every single visit.

Margaret Powling

I regret I can't join the discussion, but as we speak, the film is being shown on ITV - WHAT A COINCIDENCE!


I was also rereading this book after many years and was so surprised at the different slant I had on the book this time. When I first read the book,I was a trainee teacher and concentated on Miss Brodie's teaching methods.At that time,I remembered thinking of Miss Brodie as a tragic figure and of the different personalities of Mary McGregor and Sandy. However throughout this second reading I was much more aware of the dangerous effect of Miss Brodie on her "set". Never have I liked her character,but the way she has been portrayed by the author ensures that she has always been memorable. I wanted to know what had contributed to her fascist views, why did she feel the need to control her own group of girls.
Having got to know Edinburgh better over the years I appreciated the role the city played in the book. My first visit was as a child of about 10 staying at a hotel very similar to the Braids Hills Hotel where Jean Brodie stayed before her illness, I'm sure there were one or two "Miss Brodies" as permanent residents. I, too had forgoten how short the book. Maybe the film has kept it in our memories.


When I arrived at college in Edinburgh in 1970 my landlady looked (and sounded!) just as Miss Brodie would have done had she lived any longer, and one of the first friends I made had been a violet-clad extra in the film.

The book entirely lived up to my recollection of it; over the course of a day I was spellbound by the skill of Spark's storytelling and intrigued all over again by Sandy. There is something, for me, in the balance of foreshadowings and rememberings, and in the mutually vicarious sharings of experience between Miss Brodie and the girls, which feels close to perfection. Perhaps most of all I love the economy of style, in which repetition creates a density of significance, and reinforces the inevitability of Miss Brodie's betrayal. I'm interested in Adele's comment about the glimpses of the future carrying the story beyond its boundaries, because I realise that she is right, yet they had the opposite effect for me, building an atmosphere of enclosure and claustrophobia, appropriate to Sandy behind her grille, and always forcing the attention back to the past and the events leading to the betrayal. Another aspect of the balancing act, perhaps?

Angela Young

I loved this book and am rather amazed at myself that I have never read it before. So thank you, Cornflower, for choosing it. Of course, like all of us, I've known the fundamental story for years (and couldn't help seeing Maggie Smith in my mind's eye as I read), but I'd never read the words before.

I loved Sandy's imagination and her conversations with Alan Breck and Rochester and Sergeant Anne Grey; I love Spark's economy of language and the way she seamlessly took me backwards and forwards in time (I had to re-read parts just to see how she did it: it's seamless ...). It is modern, as Adele says.

I was intrigued that I didn't mind knowing that 'Rose .. became famous for sex' and that Mary 'died in a fire'. The prefiguring made me mind about the girls more, not less and it added to the tension and the inevitability of a betrayal. The depiction of Miss JB is mistressful: her quirks, her weaknesses, her fragility, her Fascism, her humour, her erudition, her snobbery, her vulnerability and her longing to be loved which, I felt, was the impetus that led her to mould her set ... so that they might fulfil in their primes what she could not in hers.

I didn't particularly like Miss JB but I'm sure that had I been one of her set I would have fallen under her spell ... and that semed to me to be the point of the book: that young, impressionable girls can be moulded at a certain age, and that adults have a reponsibility to understand how impressionable such girls are and not to abuse their position. And that if a person attempts to live out her unfulfilled self through the lives of others she should not be surprised when at least one of those others recognises what she is doing and takes her revenge or scuppers the plan.

Barbara MacLeod

Having never read the book but having seen, and enjoyed the film, I had Maggie Smith in my head the whole time. What came out in the book, and quite early, was the fact of JB's betrayal. It therefore became a different story for me. So well written, very tight and 'together'.

I did not realise that this was based on a real Edinburgh lady teacher in an Edinburgh girls school. It seems it was communism she was keen on.

In my husband's family I have often heard an expression the source of which I have now identified! If ever anyone showed an interest in say, Munro-bagging, bridge playing or whatever, someone would pipe up, "Well, for people who like that sort of thing, that's the sort of thing they like."

Mr Cornflower

Taking up Peter's comment about the unsympathetic nature of Miss Brodie, this is perhaps an inversion of the classical idea of a tragic hero/ine - a great individual brought down by a fatal flaw - in the sense that the heroine is a pretty obnoxious person at least partly redeemed by the fact that some of her faults are highly entertaining. That being said it is, under the skin, a pretty ruthless dissection of motives as well as a self-consciously stylised tour de force.


Thank you for choosing JB. Have now read it three times and could, and will, read it again. Probably very soon. Everything I would contribute has been said here (and so well said). I have enjoyed the other readers comments. The shortbread looks pretty good too!

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  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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