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The Ballad of Peckham Rye

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  674 ratings  ·  72 reviews
The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the wickedly farcical fable of a blue-collar town turned upside down. When the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley hires Dougal Douglas (a.k.a. Douglas Dougal) to do "human research" into the private lives of its workforce, they are in no way prepared for the mayhem, mutiny, and murder he will stir up. "Not only funny but startlingly original ...more
Paperback, 143 pages
Published May 17th 1999 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published 1960)
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Quirky and rather brief novel which I rather enjoyed. It is part fable with a spot of magic realism, a dash of humour, some nice twists and clever observations of life in the early 1960s.
Dougal Douglas (aka Douglas Dougal) is a Scot who has moved to Peckham. He gets a job in a local textile firm; Meadows, Meade and Grindley, as an "arts man", someone who will observe the workforce and learn how to motivate them. The early days of Human Resources. He has an odd and disturbing effect on those he
I had recently read some interesting biographical background on Muriel Spark, but had never actually read anything by her, although I did recall the considerable impact the film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” had on me when I saw it as a kid (which in part I attribute to strong acting by Maggie Smith and how exotic far off Scotland seemed to me, but also its focus on teaching, the power of cliques, the pressure to conform and/or obey). I found an old used copy of this earlier work by Spark from ...more
A wickedly funny and odd little book, hard to know how to read it. A clue is in the title: The Ballad... The character of Dougal Douglas or Douglas Dougal, is the quintessential "stranger who comes to town" and leaves many maimed in his wake. Is he the devil incarnate? perhaps. Is Dame Muriel Spark a devilishly good writer, always surprising, nudging her characters and the reader off balance...? Yes, indeed.
I don't like Muriel Spark. She's not really on my side. I feel that she hates us all for the dreadful time we're having (fair enough) but she is convinced that it's our fault. And so she sneers at us and it isn't very attractive.

A couple of the best sneers:
"She said, 'I feel as if I've been twenty years married instead of two hours.'
He thought this a pity for a girl of eighteen."

"'God!' she said. 'Dougal, I've had a rotten life.'
'And it isn't over yet,' Dougal said,"
Charles Dee Mitchell
Dougal Douglas, or Douglas Dougal depending upon when and on what side of town you meet him, is a Scottish devil. He offers to let most anyone feel the nubs of his horns buried in his curly red hair. The good working-class citizens of Peckham Rye, a South London suburb where people speak with distaste of any need to "cross the river," don't know quite what to make of Dougal or his nubby horns. If he is not a devil he is certainly a rascal, a young man who cons his way into local industry as an " ...more
Well, it turns that out my initial positive feeling after reading the first couple pages of Muriel Spark's The Ballad of Peckham Rye was short-lived and quickly replaced by indignation. This novel tries too hard to be some kind of bizarre satire but ends up as nothing more than an affectedly quaint and nonsensical farce without any substantial value. The characters are all flat; their motivations entirely incomprehensible. Muriel Spark can often be applauded for her sly wit, snappy dialogue and ...more
After reading Memento Mori and loving every part of it, I was expecting this one to be as witty and as interesting as the aforementioned. I was wrong. There was really nothing at all that interested me in The Ballad of Peckham Rye, I didn't find it humorous and I didn't care for the characters' fate. On the whole, this novel had an attractive plot summary, which, in my opinion, could have been executed a lot better, but it didn't blow me away.
I read this book as best I could from the perspective of having lived and worked in a working class town in the North West of England. Not Peckham I admit but having worked in the building trade darn sarf my experience was that the cultures at the time of the late 50’s and early 60’s were not miles apart. Although there were some rum lads around I could not place any of them in the Dougal Douglas mode. That is mainly because I could not work out just what type of character Muriel Spark was tryin ...more

As usual, Muriel Spark was enough over my head that I finished this highly comic novel and was not quite sure what I had just read.

Peckham Rye is a small town outside London and the setting for all kinds of poking fun at members of the English lower middle class. These characters dwell amongst their stodgy British habits but carry on in quite a modern style for the times. Lots of illicit sex going on, gossip and rumor of course.

When Dougal Douglas comes to town and insinuates himself into two ri
Allison Floyd
I read to page 100 and decided that it was remarkably like a Muriel Spark novel. Coincidence? I think not. What I mean to say is that it's shrewd, sly, and wickedly humorous without being malicious. There's a priceless metaphor about bungalows, skyscrapers, and nervous breakdowns in here. And if Douglas Dougal (and vice versa) is the devil, then hail Satan. Nevertheless, I found myself really struggling to finish, maybe because it's not a plot-driven book and I feel like I get the general Muriel ...more
Stephen Curran
My reaction to The Ballad of Peckham Rye is much the same as that of its characters to the protagonist Dougal Douglas/Douglas Dougal: by turns fascinated, alienated, amused and baffled, often suspecting they are in the presence of something malevolent. Muriel Spark's style is a curious one, stripped down and straightforward but forever making unexpected choices. Some of her turns of phrase are deliberately awkward and require rereading. The plot and tone here never settle down. Douglas's brief s ...more
Courtney Johnston
Dougal Douglas (aka Douglas Dougal) is hired by a manufacturing firm in a small town to conduct 'human research' into its workforce in order to reduce absenteeism. Douglas is simultaneously ingratiating and abhorred; he exudes something that makes the people of Peckham Rye react to him with fearful intimacy or violence. His research' is negligible, but his machinations sow discord and destruction throughout the town.

'The Ballad of Peckham Rye' is full of what I'm coming to think of as Sparkian t
Douglas Dalrymple
“There is no more beautiful sight than to see a fine woman bashing away at a typewriter,” says a character in The Ballad of Peckham Rye. We may guess that Spark was admiring herself in the mirror while writing the sentence - and Ms Spark was rather fine in her way. Unfortunately, mere bashing away at the typewriter doesn’t generally result in compelling literature. Much as I have enjoyed certain of Spark’s titles in the past, this is one of her more regrettable attempts – something to rank with ...more
Kitty Jay
Feb 21, 2015 Kitty Jay rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Rosemary Carter
When Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal) moves to Peckham to work for the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley, he begins an inquiry into the private lives and morals of the members of the firm and starts a wave of chaos and devilry that ripples through the town.

Those familiar with Muriel Spark may find themselves taken aback at the style of this short novel; though it has the brusque, clear sentences that Spark so favors, it also tends to repeat itself, showing new glimpses of the same convers
Not as intense as THE DRIVER’S SEAT (which is the book that’s caused me to read more Muriel Spark), THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE has comedic moments and essentially shows how a suspicious character who may or may not be the devil causes chaos amongst the various relationships of the people he meets. Unlike other novels that rely on the “he’s the devil but no one knows” setup (see: THE CONFIDENCE MAN by H. Melville), this novel seems less concerned with keeping his true nature a secret. It just does ...more
The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the story of how a man, Dougal Douglas, turns a blue collar town upside down. When Dougal Douglas is hired as an "Art Man" for the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grinley, he starts doing research on the town of Peckham and its people. Several times Dougal claims to be a devil and Spark leaves it up to the reader to decide if he truly has supernatural origins or if he is simply a con-man stirring up trouble. It was an interesting look at a working class community in mid ...more
So many reviews on here concentrate on how 'pithy' and 'short novel'-esque this book was and say now on to something a bit more substantial. But it is SO rare to read a novella that wears its subtlety and its downright insidious creepiness so lightly.

The book is at once a series of brilliant character sketches, a look at life in Peckham in the 60s, a satire of those people who think they can understand, hire and harness a Type of person, and a weird slightly fabulist tale with a mythology you'r
Brent Legault
Witty, worldy, charming, irreverent, imaginitive, playful and only slightly bitter, this novel would make an excellent dinner companion but perhaps not such a good life partner. It's certainly too frivolous for the "seriuos reader" but it was the Baby Bear's porridge of frivolity for me.
Muriel Spark's books typically involve some petty criminality and take place along an axis of good and evil congruent with her conversion to Catholicism.
In this short rather satirical book she presents a Scottish university graduate, an "Arts man", who some Southeast London manufacturers try to bring on as an adjunct to their Personnel departments to get inside the heads of the workers in a sociological way. Get inside he does, and with frequent hints that he is actually some incarnation of the
Dec 28, 2008 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2006
A bit confusing at first, probably due to 'Scottishisms.' Upon finishing, however, I immediately wanted to read it again. Spark's characters and writing are as original and delightful as always.
For the most part this is a slight and whimsical tale, although by the end it has gone to some oddly dark places. To be honest, I think ‘whimsical’ and ‘dark’ are a literary oil and water, they really don’t mix well together. So, despite having some high points of amusement, ‘The Ballad of Peckham Rye’ has an unevenness of tone which is quite disconcerting.

It centres on Dougal Douglas, a young Scot hired in a nebulous personnel role for a Peckham company. Bracingly optimistic, he makes it his bu
June Louise
This is the first book of Muriel Sparks' I have read, and to be honest I don't know what to make of it. The word I said to myself on finishing it a few minutes ago was "strange".

Dougal Douglas(aka Douglas Dougal - he had two jobs but needed different names for insurance purposes) is the charming Scots "devil in human form" - even claiming that two bumps on either side of his head were where his horns used to be. He manages to get himself two jobs in Peckham Rye, the mission of which is to study
Muriel Spark is one of a kind. This is weird, confusing and pretty sinister - but it's all deliberate. Interesting plot echos and repeats throughout. A lot of clever stuff, and as always her characterisation is superb.

Anyone else feel that all the personnel investigation stuff reminded them of Reginald Perrin?! Not the character of Reggie just the ubsurd comedy of "modern thinking".
A novella full of unusual characters, all influenced to act strangely by dougal. Spark gives you the character, the characters thoughts and weaves them into the tapestry of Post -war Peckgham. All the charcacters seem to be stressed out except Dougal who conducts them like an orchestra. A short, punchy couple of days in Peckhem Rye with some confused people!
I've read several books by Muriel Spark, but I don't know what to make of this one, hence the middle 3 star rating. I like her style, simple, witty, straight-forward. The main figure is Dougal Douglas who arrives in Peckham to study employee behaviour for one of the companies. Throughout the book it becomes clear that he does a similar job for a competitor company under the name of Douglas Dougal. He becomes friends with some and soon there are a few people who hate him as well. It's not clear t ...more
My favorite Spark to date. Classism. The thing about her writing is that she's writing real people. These are real, awkward, funny, terrible, honest to goodness real life characters, glory and warts and all. And I love how horrible they all are.

Spark has that knack of writing situations and characters that manage to be both incredibly average/realistic while also being captivating and just slightly not quite right. Dougal Douglas is probably one of my favorite of her characters yet, a shapeshifter who moves easily from devilish catalyst to empathetic bloke. Her framing of the story is deft and her language engaging. One of my favorites this year.
I enjoyed the style of this novel but wanted more from the story. A part of my let down can be attributed to cultural shifts in what is considered inappropriate/'immoral'. Despite the lessened shock value the writing feels quite modern - a good introduction to MS's writing.
Wendy Chard
Dougal Douglas - or Douglas Dougal, depending on which side of Peckham you frequent - is a devilishly charming, shoulder-humped Scotsman who has come to conduct 'human research' on the workers of a manufacturing firm, in order to reduce absenteeism in Peckham factories. He arouses affection and suspicion wherever he goes, lovingly referred to as 'an arts man' by his besotted employer, whilst managing to bluff his way through the daily grind on the merit of his charm and convincing vocabulary. He ...more
Slightly odd. We don't really get any answers. Why is Dougal doing what he does on all fronts? Secularly and socially, his antics are troublesome but they don't make a lot of sense. For example, he manages to get employed by two rival firms....but his activities in the social arena means he has to leave town, so he doesn't really benefit from his job setup. Why does Humphrey turn down Dixie at the altar? And then why does he come back two months later and marry her? I prefer books where people's ...more
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Dame Muriel Spark, DBE was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Spark received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the Ingersoll Foundation TS Eli
More about Muriel Spark...
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie The Girls of Slender Means A Far Cry from Kensington Memento Mori The Driver's Seat

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