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 ?

Death in bordeaux by Allan Massie

Allan Massie is a Scottish writer with a number of novels ,he is also a journalist and commentator in various papers and media ,the subject matter of Vichy France he has previously touched on ,in his other novels .This novel is set in spring of 1940 and involves a detective Lannes a policeman trying to keep control in a changing face of france ,he then has a body to deal with a young man ,but this young man is a homosexual and under the current climate Lannes worries how far he can take the case .

Never seen anything like it ,superintendent .Jules here puked ,and I don’t blame him .Naturally when I sat I haven’t seen the like ,I make an exception of what I saw in the trenches .but then even there ,well war’s natural ,as you might say , you expect horrors and this here it’s downright unnatural .

the horror of the crime scene shocks even Lannes .

The crime is a truly horrific one ,the trail leads to people in power and Lannes into danger ,there is a mysterious figure behind the crimes a man who smokes english cigarettes ,he has to question his morals to pursue the case to the end .The book is published by Quartet and is the first of a trilogy .When I first read about this book I imagined a foyles war moved to france in some respects it is a bit like that but with more depths ,Lannes is a troubled man with problems at home and at work struggling with the changing boundaries the war has brought to his job .Massie has paint the war ravage bordeaux and area well .Lannes is a wonderful character a honest man in a dishonest and turbulent time ,I will eagerly awake the next one in this trilogy to find out how he is coping with the war .If you like crime novels you’ll love this ,if you like war novels you’ll love this too and also if you like books with moral and ethical questions this should appeal to you .

May 2022


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