Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Spa

by Fay Weldon

“Provokingly complicated and eminently readable . . . Weldon raises more questions about contemporary sexual politics.” —Financial Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date February 17, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4405-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date March 25, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1864-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $24.00

About The Book

Fay Weldon has been hailed as “dry [and] delicious” by Caroline See in The Washington Post, and “the Dorothy Parker of our time” by London’s Daily Telegraph. Her latest novel, The Spa, is full of all the biting humor and glittering prose that made her name. Now in paperback, it offers a glimpse of the despairs and dalliances of a set of high-powered women who have burned paths through—and sometimes been burned by—their worlds and the men in them. It is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and ten high-achieving ladies are gathered at the expensive Castle Spa, seeking to rejuvenate themselves with Botox, aromatherapy, and all-around pampering. They lounge around in the Jacuzzi, sipping champagne, and telling each other the stories of their lives, starting with the Trophy Wife’s tale of her spell in a Greek prison; the Brain Surgeon’s tale of twins and mistaken identity; and the Judge’s tale of a sex change that allowed him to judge the pleasures of the bedroom from both male and female perspectives. The manicurist, the public speaker, the journalist, the company director, the ex-vicar’s wife, and the screenwriter all share their stories, ending with the stepmother’s tale, a reversal of Cinderella’s fate, with the stepmother as the victim. Always sharp tongued and occasionally libidinous, The Spa is a darkly funny sketch of a group of women who, despite prejudice, imprisonment, domestic catastrophes and romantic debacles, have risen to the top of their respective worlds.

Tags Literary


“[Weldon is] a chronicler of the war between the sexes. . . . [Her] trademark acid wit is very much in evidence here.” —Entertainment Weekly on She May Not Leave

“Provokingly complicated and eminently readable . . . Weldon raises more questions about contemporary sexual politics.” —Financial Times



Yuletide Break
Special Offer For High Achievers
Ten days of peace and tranquility at world-famous Castle Spa.
Join us in scenic Cumbria on Christmas Eve, leave on January 2nd.
Special Bargain Price £5000. All treatments inclusive.
Join Lady Caroline Evercreech and others of like mind for a low calorie Xmas lunch. Women only.
Recoup from the past year. Face the adventure of the new one inspired and refreshed . . .

The advertisement was in November’s Vogue. Finding myself disastrously homeless and partnerless, I read it with attention. An out-of-date Vogue—we were three days before Christmas—is not my usual reading, but I was at the hairdresser. My name is Phoebe Fox, I am a woman of a certain age, and blondish. My roots needed doing and I wanted extra streaks. I had to have somewhere to go, as a matter of urgency. And wherever I was going I had to get there with good hair.

“Call up Castle Spa, then,” said Pauline of the Hair Salon. “Find out if they have a space. Book yourself in. Treat yourself. You work hard enough, God knows.” It was pleasant to have this from someone who has been working on their feet five days a week for more than twenty years. I am a writer: at least I can sit down while I work. She can’t. She must stand and bend, and it is hard on the feet, and the back. I have known Pauline for years. She is my guide and my confessor; she is buoyant, strong, hard-working and noble, and usually right.

I called Castle Spa on my mobile while I waited for the colour to take. The receptionist took my name and number and said she’d call back in five minutes.

“Perhaps she’s checking you out to see if you’re enough of a high achiever,” said Pauline. “But I daresay you are.” I thought I would be too. Last time I looked I had 523,000 hits on Google. I write literary novels which get studied in US universities: it is not exactly fame but it is attention. Pauline’s next appointment had failed to turn up. We had the place to ourselves, and poured ourselves some wine.

Castle Spa’s receptionist, who introduced herself as Beverley, Bev to her friends, got back to me in four and a half minutes. Yes, they had one vacancy left for the special-offer ten-day break: someone had just dropped out. Yule was a magical time at Castle Spa: only sixteen guests instead of the normal forty, to allow staff time off with their families—the work/life balance being so important at Yuletide—but the very best world-class beauticians in attendance, and a brilliant White House chef as locum—

“Yes, yes,” I said, “anything. Just book me in.”

The day before, our kitchen ceiling had come down, the bath having been left to overflow. The bath came down too. By “having been left” I mean my husband Julian had left the tap on and gone away, but I am not one to apportion blame. I have done worse myself. Electricity throughout the house had shorted. There was no heating. I could not use my computer, and worried in case the “save” facility had failed when the power went off. It was with mixed feelings that I cancelled the Christmas Dinner for twenty-two—family and friends—and with pleasure that I booked with Pauline for the next morning, knowing that at least with her I would find comfort, warmth and sympathy.

Even as Julian and I had tried to find plumbers, builders and electricians and failed, Julian’s stepfather called from Wichita, Kansas, to say that his mother had had a nasty fall and broken a hip; it wasn’t looking good and Julian should go at once. Flights at this peak time were full—there was a place for Julian though not for me. He had an hour to get to the airport. We were parted: a rare, terrible but rather exciting event.

I cried a little. Friends were away, or busy. Neighbours were indifferent. I spent that night with my head under the duvet, cold without Julian. The house peeped electronically for hours, warning me that the power was off and stand-by batteries were running low. I was conscious of food rotting in the freezer, milk souring in the fridge. A miserable night might be no more than I deserved—my first reaction, when the Wichita phone call came, having been to hope that my mother-in-law had died: a mean and wretched thought, if fleeting—but I could not put up with another.

I had thought I would have to push my way through seething crowds to get to the Hair Salon in St John’s Wood High Street but the streets were quiet. The group soul of the consumer crowd around Christmas is unpredictable. A mass of spending humanity will surge through the street and then suddenly withdraw, like the tide before a tsunami. It had withdrawn now and the pebbles were showing, unnaturally bare and dry, and my instinct was to turn and run—but where, nowadays can one run to? Other than, for the likes of me, at least, Pauline’s Hair Salon.

I gave Pauline my house key so she could go and empty fridge and freezer and take what she wanted. Waste not, want not. I confessed my evil thoughts about my mother-in-law, my relief at not having to cook Christmas lunch for twenty-two—I have three grown sons, Julian has three grown girls, and most are partnered, and some have children—and the sense of mixed panic and joy at the thought of days on my own, with nowhere to go, and no roof over my head. She absolved me. I read the advertisement while she mixed the bleach, and she gave me permission to go to Castle Spa and indulge myself.

Thus it was that Bev booked me in for the ten days of Yuletide. I was to be expected late Christmas Eve. I would miss a few treatments by arriving after the others but I must understand this was my responsibility and there would be no discounts. She asked me if I wanted to sign up for the nature ramble on Friday. It booked out quickly and was all inclusive. I said no, appalled. I am not good with nature, preferring indoors to out at the best of times, and it was midwinter. What kind of indulgence was this going to be? All lentils, health, no discounts and chakras? And I had envisaged high achievers as sophisticates from the world of business, high finance and fashion. People who competed to ramble in the middle of winter were not my kind of people. And I knew those White House chefs: there is a rapid turnover: they get fired for incompetence. What had I done? The days ahead would be desperate, bleak, hungry, and lonelier than if I had stayed home. But it was too late now. Bev had my credit card number, and as I held the line the bill was validated.

Bev waited until it was done to tell me that since the break was all about perfect peace and relaxation, ladies were asked not to bring in phones or laptops during their stay.

“Of course,” I said. “Of course. Anything.” They would hardly do a body search. So that, for good or bad, was settled.

Pauline washed my hair and then set about the business of turning my head into a porcupine of silver foil spikes. That was when I asked her for the latest in the Nisha/Eleanor/Billy saga and got more than I bargained for.

The next ten days were to be full of stories. My real life being on hold, other lives seemed to rush in to fill the void. This, the terrible tale of the Bitch Witch, had revealed itself little by little over the last six months, instalment by instalment, a new one every time I visited Pauline. The drama had been safely distant in time and space—today it was to become alarmingly close, horribly real.