A Far Cry from Kensington

A Far Cry from Kensington

by Muriel Spark

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Overview

The fraying fringes of 1950s literary London


Rich and slim, the celebrated author Nancy Hawkins takes us in hand and leads us back to her threadbare years in postwar London, where she spends 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. Everywhere Mrs. Hawkins finds evil: with aplomb, however, she confidently sets about putting things to order, to terrible effect.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811223027
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 05/27/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 485,001
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Muriel Spark (1918–2006) was the author of dozens of novels, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, A Far Cry from Kensington, The Girls of Slender Means, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Driver’s Seat, and many more. She became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

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A Far Cry from Kensington 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Agnes Hawkins lives in a lodging house in South Kensington and is an editor by day in a publishing house that has seen better days. People are always trying to befriend our rotund narrator, who they see as a mother figure and dispenser of solid advice, as well as a useful contact in an industry that is notoriously difficult to enter for anyone seeking a job, and especially for writers of little talent. One writer, Hector Bartlett, particularly gets under her skin, but chooses to ignore her constant brush-offs and contrives to arrange "chance" encounters on a regular basis. One day this proves too much for Agnes and she accuses him of being a pisseur de copie to his face, an insulting French term to designate one who literally "pisses (bad) copy". This will of course get Agnes in trouble, but the derogatory appellation sticks to Bartlett all the same. Meanwhile, Wanda, one of the lodgers she lives with and has befriended, has received a threatening letter. A Polish immigrant who tries to make ends meet as a seamstress, Wanda is besides herself with fear and apprehension, convinced she'll be deported because of the accusations contained in the letter. The lodgers all begin suspecting one another, and as the threats multiply, Wanda slowly loses her sanity, and Agnes is far from suspecting what her friend has gotten involved in to pacify her accuser. Another amusing romp in Muriel Spark's fictionalized world of publishing, which is filled as always with larger than life characters and scenarios that may or may not purely stem from her imagination.
PensiveCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't say this is Muriel Spark's finest work, but it certainly is entertaining. Her narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, is a rotund war widow who people tend to confide in. One thinks this will be the sole plot of the book, but then we are introduced to Hector Bartlett, a horrible writer and detestable human being who inspires a French epithet from Mrs. Hawkins every time she sees or hears of him. His reaction to this changes the lives of nearly everyone around her. While it's not usually laugh out loud funny, there are amusing moments, and though slightly tragic, it's a quick and pleasant enough story. I would particularly recommend it to anyone who likes to read about London, particularly post-war.
bookmagic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mrs Hawkins is an overweight, young widow living in 1950's London. She lives in a rooming house with a variety of characters, including Wanda, a Polish seamstress with a secret.Mrs Hawkins works in a publishing firm and is persistently approached by Hector Bartlett, who wants her to assist him with getting his book published. Mrs Hawkins considers him a hack writer and insults him by calling him a 'pisseur de copie' a urinator of journalistic copy. She makes an enemy of not only him, but his benefactress, the author, Emma Loy. Emma gets Mrs Hawkins fired from her publishing firm, but just before it goes bankrupt due to the fraudulent activities of her former boss.Mrs Hawkins then gets another job at a more prestigious publishing firm of Mackintosh and Tooley. She is surprised to be hired over more qualified applicants until eventually she notices that all of their employees seem to have some sort of deformities, hers is that she is obese. This leads her to immediately go on a diet.In the meantime, her neighbor Wanda has received a letter from someone threatening to turn her in for tax evasion, and then gets phone calls with other threats. Mrs Hawkins is convinced that Wanda knows who is behind this, but has more things on her mind. She know longer wants to be Mrs Hawkins, but Nancy, a young woman with a new lover. But she can't shake the irritating presence of her nemesis, Hector.This book was short but delightful, filled with eccentric characters. I can't believe this is the first Muriel Sparks book I have ever read. I love her dry, British wit. Sir Alec's utterance and subsequent words of praise were like the cry of a bird in distress, far away across a darkening lake. I had a sense he was offering things abominable to me, like decaffeinated coffee or coitus interuptus... It is hard to categorize this novel; part mystery, drama, humor, amusing life observations. I am definitely going to read more books by this highly respected author.my rating 4/5
SirRoger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
aikoeliz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Far Cry From Kensington, published in 1988, is one of Muriel Sparks later novels, coming some 25 years after her most famous work, The Prime of Miss jean Brodie. It is set in 1950s Britain, largely in the boarding house of its protagonist, Mrs. Hawkins: a fat, 28 year old war-widow who has a knack for inspiring confidence from her acquaintances, who often seek her advice. At the start of the novel, she works essentially as an editor in a corrupt publishing firm that eventually goes under in scandal, but not before she attracts the attentions of Hector Bartlett, and aspiring writer of little talent but who is dating a successful and talented author. Mrs. Hawkins considers Bartlett a pissuer de copie; that is, a hack writer who is "a urinator of journalistic copy." She calls him as much to his face, which infuriates him and establishes a feud between the two that colors the rest of the plot.The novel is filled with colorful, skillfully rendered characters: the kindly, meddling owner of the boarding house; the paranoid Polish dressmaker; the flippant, silly young woman upstairs; the kind but corrupt owner of the publishing company; the whole cast of strange characters at the second publishing company.Muriel Spark tells her story with wit, wisdom, and seemingly effortless precision. She enraptures me with her ability to capture everyday life and make it slightly absurd, and to capture the slightly absurd and make it convincingly everyday. While I love magic realism and philosophical novels, I am most fascinated by novelists who can convincingly capture everyday, mundane life and make it beautiful not through high-flying poetic descriptions, but through what I can only call skillful writing. Muriel Spark is such a novelist, and if you've never read anything by her, I highly recommend you get started. A Far Cry from Kensington is a good place to start
lex10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was handed this fictional memoir, by someone I trust to provide quality literary experiences- he assured me of its solid storytelling, and richness of content.For me, prior to being handed this book, Muriel Spark really brought two things to mind: lighting cigars, (get it?) and books like Please Don't Eat the Daisies, which in reality share nothing with her.I had no idea. In his book, Rotten: No Irish No Blacks No Dogs, one finds out just how literary minded John Lydon is and how he was a fan of lots of great literature (Graham Greene's work springs to mind)... I was shocked when preparing to write this that Muriel Spark's Book The Public Image was where Lydon got the name for PiL. Had I not read his book I never would've guessed it but my suspicions were piqued when reviewing Spark's body of work.In A Far Cry From Kensington , one gets an accurate portrait of post-war London life, with cramped and damp, recession and thrift, and during the progression of the book it's subsequent awakening from its 6 year nightmare.Being an Anglophile I might've been satisfied with that and would have been polite about it, but disappointed with its lack of plot arrow.The plot arrow is large and sharp and accurate: An overweight widow in a boarding house and works at a publisher, insults a literary world hanger-on, which in subsequent years, leads to adverse circumstances over and over again for her, all the while reaffirming her belief that the pisseur de copie "pisser or copy" is just what he is, an opportunistic second banana with no moral compunction about exploitation of personal relationships, and it being a small world, capable of infecting more than just the working world Spark's protagonist, Mrs. Hawkins.As the story progresses, Mrs. Hawkins loses the insulation she grew during the war; both emotionally and physically- it falls away in the form of weight loss, the loss as allegory for her maturation, as evidenced by her questioning her faith, learning to stand firm when challenged about her interpersonal convictions and rising to the occasion when called upon by her neighbors who have revealed formerly private crises, that stemmed from character flaws that Mrs Hawkins shows us without a word of avarice, only predictive empathy, from someone who by virtue of being a war-widow, feels it necessary to conduct oneself with more maturity than other of her age.I've hit the spoiler wall; let me just say within all the wool and teacups and rugs and wallpaper there's crazies, death, fist-fighting, insults, medical emergencies, injustice, karma, foreigners, revenge and more. A perfect mix of atmosphere and activity for anyone looking to read outside of genre. It was also surprising for me, because I thought she was a 1940's & 50's writer (like I said I didn't know anything about her - just the name) - her style in this book doesn't give away that it was written 1988. Her arc runs from Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1961 to 2004's The Finishing School.I suppose that since I'm a PiL fan I'll read The Public Image next and see what she has to offer.
grheault on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Funny, funny, funny. Mrs. Hawkins, the marmish, but not really marmish storyteller, narrates her life, and that of her housemates in London in the 1950's. She takes what could be experienced as a mundane, tragic existence and interprets it as vibrant, dramatic, ironic, comic, and full of intrigue. Laced with honest observations and witty wisdomic (new word) commentaries on propriety, justice, sexuality, I found this a very interesting, light touch weaving of genre threads. I have become a Muriel Spark fan.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mrs. Hawkins is the glorious and very witty narrator of A Far Cry From Kensington. Now decades older and living in Italy, Mrs. Hawkins reminisces with the reader about her life as a young war widow working in publishing and living in a rooming house in South Kensington, England. She recounts, with great hilarity to the reader, a mystery surrounding one of her former housemates, a Polish dressmaker by the name of Wanda. Wanda is being threatened, ultimately blackmailed, by someone sending anonymous letters. Mrs. Hawkins, being one of such confidence and admiration, is immediately called to consult on the issue. The plot thickens when Wanda subsequently commits suicide. I do not want to give more of the plot away but this was the first time I had ever heard of radionics or the phrase, "pisseur de copie."
lahochstetler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in the mid-twentieth century London publishing world, this is a quirky and enjoyable read. The book is structured as a flashback, as Mrs. Hawkins looks back on her youth, working for a minor Kensington publisher. She looks back from the comforts of her retirement in Italy. As a young war widow Mrs. Hawkins lived on a small salary reviewing manuscripts for her employer. Her duties led her to an ongoing feud with an untalented hack writer, who believes firmly in his own merit, but whose clunky prose Mrs. Hawkins dismisses. After brandishing him with a somewhat amusing moniker, she becomes the target of his revenge. Their ongoing feud reveals to Mrs. Hawkins a seedy underbelly of the publishing industry, one that she may unknowingly expose. The ending is both bizarre and entertaining, and the characters are originals.
Prop2gether on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is a retelling of Sparks' work as an editor (as told in her memoir Curriculum Vitae) and she deftly skewers those who were involved in that period of her life. This book is fiction, but really--it's a delightful payback.
debbook More than 1 year ago
Mrs Hawkins is an overweight, young widow living in 1950's London. She lives in a rooming house with a variety of characters, including Wanda, a Polish seamstress with a secret. Mrs Hawkins works in a publishing firm and is persistently approached by Hector Bartlett, who wants her to assist him with getting his book published. Mrs Hawkins considers him a hack writer and insults him by calling him a 'pisseur de copie' a urinator of journalistic copy. She makes an enemy of not only him, but his benefactress, the author, Emma Loy. Emma gets Mrs Hawkins fired from her publishing firm, but just before it goes bankrupt due to the fraudulent activities of her former boss. Mrs Hawkins then gets another job at a more prestigious publishing firm of Mackintosh and Tooley. She is surprised to be hired over more qualified applicants until eventually she notices that all of their employees seem to have some sort of deformities, hers is that she is obese. This leads her to immediately go on a diet. In the meantime, her neighbor Wanda has received a letter from someone threatening to turn her in for tax evasion, and then gets phone calls with other threats. Mrs Hawkins is convinced that Wanda knows who is behind this, but has more things on her mind. She know longer wants to be Mrs Hawkins, but Nancy, a young woman with a new lover. But she can't shake the irritating presence of her nemesis, Hector. This book was short but delightful, filled with eccentric characters. I can't believe this is the first Muriel Sparks book I have ever read. I love her dry, British wit. Sir Alec's utterance and subsequent words of praise were like the cry of a bird in distress, far away across a darkening lake. I had a sense he was offering things abominable to me, like decaffeinated coffee or coitus interuptus... It is hard to categorize this novel; part mystery, drama, humor, amusing life observations. I am definitely going to read more books by this highly respected author. my rating 4/5 http://bookmagic418.blogspot.com/
greeninoakpark More than 1 year ago
Muriel Spark gives us an outstand Character study of Mrs. Hawkins and her neighbors in A Far Cry from Kensington. I felt like I was there, sitting across from Mrs. Hawkins . . . strolling down the road with Mrs. Hawkins as she tells me her story of the life and times as Mrs. Hawkins in Kensington. Every character comes to life. You can hear the voices and pictures the features of each character. And their life experiences and times make this book a total joy to read. You hate to see it end, and having to say "Good Bye, until next time!" to Mrs. Hawkins.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to return this book to the store.  Besides having missing pages, which made following the story very hard, there were misspelled words, poor grammer, and just not a very interesting story.