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A Far Cry from Kensington

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  4,318 ratings  ·  502 reviews
Set on the crazier fringes of 1950s literary London, A Far Cry from Kensington is a delight, hilariously portraying love, fraud, death, evil, and transformation. 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 ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 17th 2000 by New Directions (first published 1988)
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Jun 03, 2010 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
Before I started this book, I listened to Muriel Spark speaking on a BBC documentary about her approach to novel writing. Sometimes, she said, she'd start with the title and build the novel from it. At other times, she'd start with the ending, and then make up a story that might lead to it. When I reached the end of this book, it occurred to me that she had combined both those methods in creating this novel, odd as that may sound. Take the final three lines of the final page:
'Did you settle the
Paul Bryant
Oct 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
I’ve done with Muriel Sparks. She’s bonkers. How about this

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – pretty good, very cool
The Driver’s Seat – an insult to the reader’s intelligence
The Girls of Slender Means – lovely frail wisp of a novel, poignant and memorable
A Far Cry from Kensington – absolute tosh

Ali Smith says in her introduction

This is a fiction about what happens when you speak the plain truth out loud

Actually this is a fiction about a woman who has a compulsion to insult a particular man (who de
Violet wells
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Every now and again a novel comes along when it's beneficial to have some inside information on its real life inspiration. Muriel Spark was trolled in her lifetime by an ex-lover who, by all accounts, was a pretty despicable character. This novel is her revenge on him. And as you'd expect from someone with such biting wit as Spark it's a withering revenge.

The milieu of this novel is the post-war publishing industry. It all feels resonantly authentic as if there's a good deal of autobiography i
Steven Godin
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a delightful treat!
Full of wit and self-confidence that came as no surprise to me at all.

Set mostly in a Kensington rooming house in which reside a number of genteel folk, who cook on gas rings, share the bathroom down the hall, and watch a couple in the house next door kick starting arguments. We have Milly the landlady, a medical student, two young married people who wear Liberty dressing gowns, a district nurse obsessed with keeping her room spick and span, a troubled Polish emigre dres
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, uk, 20-ce
3.5 stars
Here's what New York Times' reviewer Michiko Kakutani wrote about this 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
Wow, what humor! I absolutely loved every minute listening to this. Cannot a book that gives such a glorious ride be considered amazing?

The humor is not just slapdash; it has a message. Humor about what? Publishing houses and authors, first and foremost. Religion and homosexuality and supernaturalism and one's appearance and really all of modern day life. The humor is sophisticated. Listen carefully to the lines!

All of us here at GoodReads need to know of the marvelous expression “pisseur de c
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this somewhat difficult to assess. It is the last but one novel that Ms Spark wrote, published in 1988, with only The Symposium 1990 and then, what she thought would be the first part of her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae in 1992. Muriel Spark died in April 2006 in her home in Florence, Italy.

I think it is difficult to review a book by such a well-known writer as Ms Spark, but I will try. It is a re-read, and what comes back to me now, is the very pleasant and satisfying conclusion to
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading three more Muriel Spark novels has been the highlight of the Mookse Madness list for me, and I will definitely be reading more. I really enjoyed Loitering with Intent, and if anything this one, published seven years later, is even better. The setting is similar but is also a few years later, in the mid 1950s. Once again, it is entertaining and often very funny, but also very clever and sometimes profound.

As in Loitering with Intent, writing and the publishing industry are central. The na
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel contains the reminiscences of Mrs Hawkins, a young, comfortably overweight, war widow and her life in 1954 London. During this time, Mrs Hawkins lodges in a rooming house in South Kensington, owned by the warm and friendly, Milly Sanders. Other inhabitants of the house include district nurse, Kate Parker, Polish dressmaker, Wanda, medical student, William Todd, the young, theatre loving Isabel and quiet couple, Basil and Eva Carlin.

During this book, Mrs Hawkins (always referred to by
Michael Finocchiaro
This book was gifted to me, but I was not able to get into it. I’ll probably give it another chance soon as it is rather short. Perhaps folks could suggest other Muriel Spark books that they enjoyed?
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This the third book I have read by Muriel Spark and, in common with the other two, she yet again consistently manages to make the everyday extraordinary and to add intrigue and mystery to the mundane. Black humour and dark twists abound in this evocative slice of mid 1950s London life, which primarily takes place in a Kensington rooming house, and the world of book and magazine publishing.

Mrs Hawkins, a young widow whose husband was killed in WW2, works as an editor in 1950s London, and she is
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: spark
2.5 stars rounded up
One of Spark’s later novels (late 1980s, but set in the mid1950s), this takes a look at the publishing industry of mid 1950s London. The analysis is sharp and well written, as is usually the case with Spark. The protagonist is Mrs Hawkins, a war widow in her late 20s. Spark portrays her as being obese with a strong physical presence. It appears that because of her size people come to her for advice and support, which she is happy to give, sometimes rather acerbically. She liv
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
From November 2011 — Agnes Hawkins lives in a lodging house in South Kensington and is an editor at a publishing house that's seen better days. She is used to the fact the people are always trying to befriend her—with her reassuring round figure making her seem like a mother figure—as a dispenser of solid advice, and of course as a useful contact in an industry notoriously difficult to get into, let alone for writers without much talent. One writer, Hector Bartlett, gets under her skin especiall ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Just finished this fine book, which I found both clever and compelling.

It was my first Muriel Spark and a nice new copy from the library.

Characters were interesting and they developed superbly as the book went on. I liked the way Muriel Spark wove the story amongst the people of the book subtly using observation and humour, and what might seem at first, benign description of objects and situations, to progress events, and then gently remind the reader of key pieces of information or influences
Joy D
Set in 1954 in London, protagonist Mrs. Hawkins lives in a rooming house with a medical student, a married couple, a nurse, and a dressmaker. Mrs. Hawkins is defined by her “presence” – she is outspoken and gives plenty of advice. Looking back from a distance of thirty years, she narrates the story of her work in publishing, which is negatively impacted by a feud with an unskilled writer. The plot involves the mystery of a threatening letter received by the Polish dressmaker. This book starts as ...more
Aug 03, 2011 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
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am happy to report that my second Muriel Spark was simply delightful.
The main protagonist, who as a young war-widow used to live in 1950s in a rooming-house in South Kensington remembers those times and tells us her story. Although at a time she was a young woman, she was always respectfully referred to as mrs Hawkins. Maybe because she was a large woman, maybe because she worked in publishing or maybe because she was the kind of person that everyone turned to, for advice.
The quiet company of
Dhanaraj Rajan
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
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
Jul 24, 2011 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 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 co ...more
T.D. Whittle
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For years, in times of peril, I have been asking myself "What would Mrs. Hawkins do?" Dame Muriel Spark is one of my favourite authors of all time, and her 1988 novel "A Far Cry from Kensington," one of my favourite books. Here, I pass on a small portion of the wit and wisdom of the story's protagonist, Mrs. Hawkins. If you like what you read here, then I recommend you get your own stack of Muriel Spark novels, as they are easily and inexpensively available on-line from used booksellers. Then po ...more
Richard Moss
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
How good was Muriel Spark? This good is the answer.

A Far Cry From Kensington is alternately hilarious, wise, thoughtful, vicious and downright batty. The characters are memorable, and there's even intrigue and mystery.

Set in the mid-80s, it sees Mrs Hawkins looking back on the 1950s when she was much, much fuller-figured, and living in a room in a shared house in the then less-than-swanky Kensington.

Mrs Hawkins works in a publishing house, that seems to be a refuge for people with some kind unu
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, scottish
I continue to find Muriel Spark's work very good for morale. Her female characters take an admirably indefatigable approach to their lives, which I aspire to emulate. 'A Far Cry from Kensington' is narrated by Mrs Hawkins, who looks back on her life in a boarding house in Kensington during the early 1950s. She recounts several jobs in the publishing industry and her interactions with a certain Hector Barlett, her nemesis. I gather he is based on a man who plagued Spark in actual reality; there i ...more
Jan 06, 2010 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
Jennifer (aka EM)
This novel in two sentences: British post-war boardinghouse saga, revolving around a fat widow and editor (Mrs. Hawkins) who insults (pretty mildly, all things considered) a wannabe writer and - given every chance and no small pressure (view spoiler) - to withdraw said epithet, refuses to do so. Shenanigans, some of them pretty damn dark ('coz Muriel Spark), ensue.

Despite aforesaid darkness, I'm going to put this on my palate-cleanser shel
Gina Whitlock
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A delightful English book about Mrs. Walker with her various jobs and the members of her boardinghouse in Kensington, She dispenses free advice: "It's easy to get thin. You eat and drink the same as always, only half...I offer this advice without fee; it is included in the price of this book." I enjoyed the read.
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 E ...more
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!
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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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