A Far cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A far cry from Kensington by Muriel spark

Scottish fiction

Muriel Spark was a Scottish born writer ,she wrote over twenty novels in her life .She studied in Scotland  at Herriot watts a course on precise writing,she then taught english before world war two and in the war worked in intelligence ,after the war she moved to London .She is probably best known for the book the prime of Miss  Jean  Brody .I Haven’t until now tried her works she is one of the writers I class as scary female ,but thankfully for Simon of stuck in a book and Harriet of Harriet Devine who are hosting Muriel spark week as they both took part in my Henry Green reading week I thought this would be an ideal chance to try her so I head to the main library in Chesterfield and found a few of her book on their shelves ,the one that grabbed my eye was the Virago modern Classic of A far cry from Kensington .

So I cracked it open last weekend the book was  A far cry from Kensington I was drawn to the fact this story was partly set in the publishing world  .The book is about Mrs Hawkins a catholic ,war widow , it is told in retrospective ,as she starts on  the low rungs of  the publishing world at a rather poorly run publisher Ullswater press ,I love an early description of her working at the office at how the partners in the business work .I laughed at how she describe the daily life of publishing in the fifties  .Later this company folds and she is left looking for a job ,luckily she did at a more well-known and prestigious publishing house ,but when there she finds things are still run badly .

Then as now ,all jobs in publishing were greatly sought after ,and perhaps consequently ,poorly  paid

think even sixty years after this book this is still true .

The other tract of the story is her home life she lives in a house divide into flats .In one of these flats lives Wanda a polish women and a dress-maker  ,this also leads to a few comic lines about her out look on life .That is a enough of the comic parts as the book is dark as well things turn strange when Mrs Hawkins called a writer   a pisseur de copie (urinates frightful prose ) as he wants the Ullswater press to put his work out this desire takes a dark turn and at a later point the man Hector Bartlett is possibly  involved with Wanda but later in the book things start going bad for Wanda and is it this man ?and her work and home life collide with a shocking results .

“How is Wanda getting on ,Mrs Hawkins ?”

Wanda ,the Polish dressmaker ,had enough problems to fill up the rest of the afternoon.Mr York filled his glass,and I him in about Wanda

“Wanda ” I said “suffers greatly ”

“I never met a pole who doesn’t ”

this little passage made me laugh .

I really didn’t know what to expect from Spark but didn’t expect to fall in love with her clear prose style the way she drew you into the story with twist and turns of the plot ,the main characters all seemed so well drawn out to me , very real Hawkins a war widow and Catholic struck me in some part as a thinly veiled Spark  .I would imagine post war the was a number of Polish or other eastern european women like Wanda  after the second world war I was drawn to a character in Christie’s  book a murder is announced called Mitzi she had the same paranoid and suffered personality as Wanda .Muriel spark  did live in London after the war but not in Kensington but Camberwell .and worked as an editor  for a poetry magazine so would have had interaction with the Publishing world of the time .I m going to try to pick another spark on my visit to sheffield later this week hoping the second hand shop has some of the great early penguin covers .Thanks to Simon for host the week

Have you read spark ?

What would you suggest to try next ?

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. parrish lantern
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 19:53:48

    yes have read but not for a while, will suggest the novella The Girls of Slender Means which also comes with a recommendation from Anthony Burgess.


  2. Teresa
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 20:06:15

    I’ve only read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Stu, but I loved it and the author’s wit shines through. Having read your review, I must try more of her work.


  3. gaskella
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 21:51:10

    I love that Lucienne Day design on the cover – iconic. My favourite Spark so far out of about six read is The Ballad of Peckham Rye which was very funny.


  4. Simon T
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 22:33:56

    Thanks so much for participating, Stu! I love it that this Reading Week has introduced people to Spark – in the same way that you introduced me to Henry Green. I’ve read three reviews of A Far Cry From Kensington this week, and now it’s definitely the one I want to read next.


  5. Caroline
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 06:58:07

    It has striking similarities with the one I have read but seems much better. Thanks for the review. It may be the next one I read.


  6. Max Cairnduff
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:03:41

    Like Teresa I’ve only read Brodie, but I’m very keen to read more. I’ll check out The Girls of Slender Means, though this also sounds very good.


  7. Petty Witter
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 15:30:08

    Thanks for dropping by Pen and Paper, as always it was good to see you. Great post, it tells me everything I could wish to know about a book. This is not an author Ive read but I hope to rectify that soon.


  8. whisperinggums
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 12:46:39

    Oh, this sounds great Stu … she’s a writer I know I would like. I’ve seen the move of Brodie but haven’t read it. (And, what a gorgeous cover).


  9. whisperinggums
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 12:49:01

    BTW I notice your edition has an introduction by Ali Smith. I’ve read one of her novels, Hotel World, and loved it. From that book and what I know of Spark, they seem like a good fit.


  10. Desperate Reader
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 21:32:35

    You make me want to read it again – all the Virago Sparks have been good so far so I hope you have happy hunting in Sheffield.


  11. Trackback: Sunday Caught My Interest « Reflections from the Hinterland
  12. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 14:48:37

    I have heard only of Muriel Spark but have not read any of her books.


  13. Sarah
    May 01, 2012 @ 19:52:43

    Her writing can be very dry, as in the part you quote. Some might say caustic.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your first Spark. I think she can be an acquired taste. I have to work at it a bit!


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April 2012


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