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A Far Cry from Kensington

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  2,294 Ratings  ·  270 Reviews
Mrs. Hawkins, the majestic narrator of A Far Cry from Kensington, takes us well in hand, and leads us back to her threadbare years in postwar London. There, as a fat and much admired young war widow, she spent her days working for a mad, near-bankrupt publisher ("of very good books") and her nights dispensing advice at her small South Kensington rooming-house. At work and ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 17th 2000 by New Directions (first published 1988)
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Community Reviews

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Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
This book is a hard one to rate. At one point, the protagonist, who is an editor, says,
"'You are writing a letter to a friend. . . . And this is a dear and close friend, real - or better - invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.'"
That is exactly how it is written. The
Oct 16, 2016 William1 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 20-ce, uk
3.5 stars
Here's what New York Times' reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote about the author:

Here is the recipe for a typical Muriel Spark novel: take a self-enclosed community (of writers, schoolgirls, nuns, rich people, etc.) that is full of incestuous liaisons and fraternal intrigue; toss in a bombshell (like murder, suicide or betrayal) that will richochet dangerously around this little world, and add some allusions to the supernatural to ground these melodramatics in an old-fashioned context of g
Aug 10, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely delightful read. What I love about Spark is that each of her novels is entirely different from the next...yet one can always count on a generous dose of charm and wit along with keen observation and insight. And so far (I think I've read five of her novels), A Far Cry rises to the top of the heap.

According to Stannard (Spark's biographer), when the novel appeared, reviewers contented themselves with repeating Mrs. Hawkins' bon mots, her clever advice: The best way to diet is to ea
When someone mentions Muriel Spark, most people say "Ah!, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie". They would be right of course, but her legacy is much deeper than that. She wrote 22 novels, several of them listed on Guardian's 1000 books to read list. And she is #8 on Time's 50 best British authors since 1945. A Far Cry From Kensington is my second Spark novel, so I clap my hands because I have 20 more to look forward to. This novel, set in 1950's London, combines humor, intrique, an amazing character ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
Feb 05, 2015 Dhanaraj Rajan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
May be 3 and half stars.

What is it about?

Chapter five begins thus: "I enjoy a puritanical and moralistic nature; it is my happy element to judge between right and wrong, regardless of what I might actually do. At the same time, the wreaking of vengeance and imposing of justice on others and myself are not at all in my line. It is enough for me to discriminate mentally and leave the rest to God."

That seems to be the premise of the book. The time period chosen is 1950s. The location in which the p
Oct 12, 2016 Sketchbook rated it liked it
From a Grub Street bed-sit, Spark's blissful heroine stalks
the pretentions of UK publishing w its dim editors, preening
writers, fatuous hangers-on. The devilish situation is personal to Spark. The first 2/3ds are pungent, timeless and seriously funny.

Then, something happens: Spark seems exhausted, eager to end her book. Absurd plot tanglements push her into a corner. As in other novels she gloms onto a suicide and, from nowhere, a slapdash romance. Suggested by editor, agent, confidante? In term
Dec 30, 2008 Fran rated it really liked it
I get all my Muriel Spark books from the library at the college where I work, which means that none of them have dust jackets. This is a good thing, because when you open a Spark book, you should know as little about it as possible so that you can enjoy the surprising characters, situations, and plot twists. I'll just tell you that A Far Cry from Kensington is set in the publishing industry in London after World War II, and that the narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, will make a delightful and delirious ...more
Sep 29, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book four days ago and while at the time I didn't think much and moved on, I've found myself reflecting back to the story and the characters, so it struck a chord deep inside of me that I didn't realize. How Spark was able to create an entire world in less than 200 pages is a crafty feat and one that not a lot of authors could accomplish. And to think the whole book is based on one woman's memory looking back 30 years when she was suffering a bout of insomnia!
Have just re-read it and have found it to be as witty and interesting as previously. A whole host of tongue in cheek observations and clever asides from the heroine, Mrs Hawkins, as she recalls a six month period in her life moving from job to job as a result of her unpreparedness to stop speaking the truth about one particularly obnoxious individual. This ' pisseur de copie ' Hector Bartlett slimes his way through the story but it is his very grossness which is an aspect that rankles. Why did ...more
Dec 15, 2008 Lily rated it really liked it
There is something so alluring yet strange, very strange about Muriel Spark. The way she crafts her characters allows them to be complex and real, yet there are always unsettling tones to them that are hard to pinpoint. I would like to read more from this author.
Oct 09, 2016 Rebecca rated it really liked it
This book was a great read. I really enjoyed visiting 1955 post-war London with Mrs Hawkins.
Muriel Spark's 18th novel was first published in 1988.

Described on the back cover by Claire Tomalin (reviewer for The Independent) as "... the world of the fifties publishers who, though occasionally crooked, were still gentlemen - dotty, charming and exploitative of clever women - is beautifully recognisable".

Written in the first person of Mrs Hawkins - an over weight, war widow with a "job in pub
Jan 06, 2010 David rated it really liked it
This was a great book to start the new year with - an unexpectedly delicious souffle, with one of the most appealing first-person narrators I've come across in years. Mrs Hawkins, the main protagonist, is not just smart (this is Muriel Spark, after all), she's also hilariously funny and entertaining. Which makes this book a delight to read, like a cross between "Cold Comfort Farm" and "Diary of a Provincial Lady", transplanted to the world of publishing in 1950s London.

Without those creepy Miss
Muriel Spark is a fricking genius.
Practically no plot occurs with regards to the main character. Horrifically awful things happen. And yet the entire novel is strangely gripping, light-hearted and fun. How does she do it? Will we ever know? Is Muriel Spark one of the greatest?
Aug 05, 2009 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, the first Muriel Spark novel I have read, consists of a superb extended character study of a certain Mrs. Hawkins: a hugely likeable presence whose old fashioned good sense is punctuated by a scurrilous sense of fun and determination to be herself. It is fascinating as a depiction of the world of publishing in the 1950s, and provides a signal that little has changed beneath the now corporate veneer.

The London of the novel is hardly recognisable, monocultural as it is and with the clas
Sep 01, 2015 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first novel by Muriel Sparks. It was a solid 3 stars for me. I liked the story line and the MC seemed well drawn. I guess I just wasn't pulled into this. I thought, from the jacket blip, that this would be right up my alley, but sadly it wasn't. The humor was not my thing. I don't know how else to describe it....I think it was too English for me. But I will say, I liked the author's writing style. She was very methodical in how she developed the plot. The pace was consistent ...more
This was a light read which I listened to as an audiobook. The storyline was interesting but not gripping, the narrator's voice pleasant, and it filled a void while I was waiting for another audiobook to become available. I'm giving it 2.5 stars.
Feb 02, 2012 Wendy rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, anglophilia, 2012
I honestly am hard pressed to know what made me think I wanted to read this book in the first place. At just under 200 pages though I stuck it out and finished it. It wasn't awful -- the main character, Mrs. Hawkins, is a rather astute observer with an officious personality. I just wish there had been more story to the story. I guess it was supposed to be a mystery, but there wasn't a whole lot of mystery to it.
Dec 28, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2006
Wonderful. Sparks' vivid characters hooked me from the beginning, and the story unfolds in Sparks' characteristic way. I love the wit, the aplomb, and the ending.
Allie Riley
Thoroughly enjoyed this witty book. Review to follow.
Sep 28, 2016 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: university
Loved this from start to finish. The mystery of the story really drove this plot forward, particularly the intriguing mentions of radionics, and the darkly portrayed Hector Bartlett. It also helped that the plot was told in a retrospective style. The protagonist, Agnes 'Nancy' is also very relatable and full of good life advice - 'eat half of everything' etc
Would definitely recommend!
Sep 11, 2015 Doreen rated it really liked it
Nepotism is still I believe the order of the day.

still relevant till today... sad to say.
job hunting advice from mrs hawkin:
When you are looking for a job the best thing to do is to tell everyone, high and humble, and keep reminding them please to look out for you. This advice is not guaranteed tofind you a job, but it is remarkable how suitable jobs can be found through the most unlikely people.

mrs hawkins free advice to aspiring authors:
Now, it fell to me to give advice to many authors whi
Jul 10, 2009 Kathleen rated it really liked it
This book, published over twenty years ago, was recommended this summer by NPR's Nancy Perl, whom I would truly like as a best friend. The narrator, a bright, independent young widow, writes thirty years later of her days living in a rooming house in the early 1950's in England and of her work in publishing. The characters are diverse and engaging, some mysterious, some more surprising for the time in which they lived. An honest if not impulsive comment from the narrator, repeated several times ...more
May 05, 2012 Kate rated it it was ok
Shelves: england, read-in-2012
"Mrs. Hawkins, the majestic narrator of A Far Cry from Kensington, takes us well in hand and leads us back to her threadbare years in postwar London. There, as a fat but much admired young war widow, she spent her days working for a mad, near-bankrupt publishes ('of very good books') and her evenings dispensing advice at her small South Kensington rooming house. At work and at home, Mrs. Hawkins soon uncovered evil: shady literary doings and a deadly enemy; anonymous letters, blackmail, and suic ...more
I really wanted to like this book. A Scottish author, London setting, a story steeped in and centered on books, plus some promise of intrigue and mystery. It fell completely flat for me. The narrator was completely unrelatable and utterly self-absorbed. I'm sure her "good advice" was meant to be funny in an ironic way, but her attitude was such that it came off sounding incredibly pretentious and off-putting. There is only the faintest hit of mystery in the background and it's left unattended ...more
Nov 22, 2012 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in 1950s London, 'A Far Cry from Kensington' is a social drama as related by Mrs Hawkins who lives in a large rooming house, not surprisingly in Kensington, with a variety of other lodgers.

She works in publishing, which gives the book that little extra interest, while the other lodgers are a disparate bunch of oddities, whose very moves cause chaos, heartache, stress and distress. Mrs Hawkins handles it all with aplomb while going about her daily business.

That daily business is interrupted a
Michael Curtis
Apr 12, 2013 Michael Curtis rated it it was ok
The subject matter of Muriel's books is normal life for regular people. There is ample greatness, adventure, pettiness, conflict, humor, intrigue and scandal in ordinary life to scrutinize and ponder, her books seem to say. These things do not have to be on a grand scale to interest and entertain. At her best, in books like The Prime of Miss Jean Brody and Memento Mori, she ignites her story and lets it go its own way. A sense of purpose moves it along, there's an internal force that unravels ...more
This is the second Muriel Spark book I've read (the other is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). I loved Miss Jean Brodie, so came to this with high expectations. While I did not love this nearly much, the book really demonstrates the range of this author. The books are basically completely different from one another, yet the acerbic wit some through as a common thread.

Here we find a fabulous narrator, Mrs. Hawkins. She tells us of the strange crowd around her in a rooming house and in her jobs in p
May 30, 2013 Agatha rated it liked it
This book was as if Rosamunde Pilcher decided to write a little mystery. It is a short little novel, set in post-WWII, 1950’s London, and the narrator, Mrs. (Agnes) Hawkins, is a fun, no-nonsense, 28-year-old war widow who listens to everyone’s troubles and helps them sort things out. The book paints an interesting look at gentile poverty in the post-war years, with Mrs. Hawkins living in an old Georgian home carved up into multiple rental units and working for a book publishing company (“which ...more
Jul 26, 2009 esmepie rated it it was amazing
Recommended by Nancy Pearl for her NPR Summer Reads picks. Extremely funny book with a hilarious narrator--Mrs. Hawkins who works in the London literary world of the 1950s. I've never read any Spark before and was thrilled by her writing. She is a strong writer who creates memorable descriptions with only one or two interesting sentences. One character is described as being so forgettable as to be living between parentheses. Another having a voice so wispy it's like smoke coming from a clump of ...more
Apr 16, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mrs Hawkins narrates this book with charm and a very strong personality. It is set in London in 1954. She guides us through the rooming house she shares with a female nurse, a married couple, a medical student and a Polish dressmaker. Mrs Hawkins works in the publishing industry and is a very interesting character. She is a young war widow, capable and self assured. She tells us that people always want to confide in her and throughout the novel she directly offers the reader advice on a number ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Please can you add an Audible Edition 4 12 Oct 18, 2016 08:25AM  
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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
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“If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work ... the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp ... The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.” 60 likes
“...try as i do, i can't recall her surname. Indeed, her very abstractedness and insubstantial personality seemed to say 'forget me'; she seemed to live in parenthesis;...” 11 likes
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