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A Far Cry from Kensington

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  3,351 Ratings  ·  398 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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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
...more
Petra X
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
...more
William2
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: uk, 20-ce, fiction
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
...more
Chrissie
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
...more
Susan
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
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
...more
Nigeyb
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
...more
Jessica
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
...more
Anna
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, re-brit, st-audio
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
...more
Duane
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 03, 2015 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
...more
Sketchbook
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
...more
Fran
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
David
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
...more
Mark
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
Chris
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!
Jeanne
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Somewhat silly, but a fun light book, with one of the best opening lines: "So great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence." I was amused by the subtle humor of Mrs. Hawkins dispensing bits of advise at no charge, simply "included in the price of this book." Cute.
Lily
Dec 15, 2008 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.
Lydia
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?
Carla Remy
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written in the late 1980s, the main character of this book is thinking back to the 50s. Telling a story about when she was 29, but with all the years inbetween having happened. This is interesting. Quite funny, the book is about her life as a copy editor, living in a rooming house. The world of publishing, as she knows it, is shaky and crazy. Radionics is an interesting part, and real. Everything comes together as the book goes on, and it is satisfying. She makes an enemy of a hack writer who sh ...more
Rebecca
Oct 08, 2016 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
...more
Laura
From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:
Muriel Spark's playful and autobiographical novel set amid London's post-war publishing scene.

Episode 1:
War widow Mrs Hawkins enjoys her life; her rooms suit her, she cherishes good friends and holds a coveted job working with books. But when an author starts to make a nuisance of himself, her life will change beyond recognition.

Episode 2:
War widow Mrs Hawkins' future prospects look uncertain as the Ullswater Press falters: meanwhile there are more pressing p
...more
Rob
Jul 30, 2009 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
...more
Donna
Aug 17, 2015 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 throughou ...more
Kathryn
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.
Sareen
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a page turner, the narrative carries you along at such a pace, without seeming to rush and before you know it you’re halfway through the next chapter.

Although this is a relatively short novel, Mrs Hawkins is a character I feel will stay with me.

Reflecting on her time working in publishing in the 1950s, she introduces us to various characters who were, at the time, important in her life. There is Milly, the Irish landlady and the cast of her rooming house including Wanda, a Polish s
...more
Andy Weston
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the sort of book that leaves its mark on you, that you will always remember, and yet it is not plot driven, just about a group of people living and working together in 1950s west London.

It is crammed full of incident and character, and is a very upbeat novel, full of wit, reflecting the hopes and challenges of people in the decade following the war.

More than other people I know, I compartmentalise my life into periods each of a few years based on the job I was doing, friends at the tim
...more
Pamela
This is a crazy, sparkling, wickedly amusing novel. Mrs Hawkins, the narrator, looks back 30 years to the time she spent living in a shared house in Kensington and working in the publishing industry. A fellow lodger, Wanda Podolak, receives an anonymous letter. At the same time, Mrs Hawkins tells the odious writer, Hector Bartlett, that he is a pisseur de copie and loses her job. Looking back, Mrs Hawkins examines the connections between these events and the consequences for those involved.

Thr
...more
Ali
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel is narrated by Mrs Hawkins (Agnes – sometimes, though rarely called Nancy). Thirty years in the future from the main events in the novel – Mrs Hawkins, lying sleepless in another part of London, recalls the time she was a publisher’s assistant in the mid-1950s. Rationing is still in place, and Mrs Hawkins a young war widow goes to live in a rooming house in Kensington. Here live an odd set of characters, they move in and out of each other’s lives and each other’s rooms, it is largely a ...more
Val
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: group
Mrs Hawkins works as an editor for a small publishing firm, so when she tells a writer that his book is badly written, I think we can assume that she is correct. She could have been more tactful and apologised for the language, but not the judgement. She refuses and she repeats the derogatory phrase several times. Unfortunately the bad writer is involved with a good writer neither this publisher nor a further one can afford to offend. Mrs Hawkins loses her job, twice.
Muriel Spark worked in publi
...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
“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.” 75 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;...” 15 likes
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