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The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Penguin Modern…
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The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Penguin Modern Classics) (original 1960; edition 2006)

by Muriel Spark, William Boyd (Introduction)

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426924,790 (3.44)40
Member:thanissaro
Title:The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Penguin Modern Classics)
Authors:Muriel Spark
Other authors:William Boyd (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2006), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:read in 2013, stored in Stockport
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work details

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark (Author) (1960)

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  1. 00
    The Fall of Kelvin Walker by Alasdair Gray (slickdpdx)
    slickdpdx: For fans of slim well-written novels about devilish young Scotsmen.
  2. 00
    The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy (mambo_taxi)
    mambo_taxi: Both novels feature highly dubious lead characters who will have you rooting for the more delicate side of evil in the end.
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» See also 40 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Newly arrived to Peckham (London) from Scottland, Dougal Douglas (aka Douglas Dougal) is hired by nylon textiles manufacturer Meadows, Meade & Grindley, where his made-to measure position is meant to bridge the gap between industry and the arts. During his stay in Peckham, Dougal carries out "human research" on the "moral character" of the people of the area. As well as working for Meadows, Meade & Grindley, he also works for their rivals, the more prosperous Drover Willis's textile manufacturers (under the pseudonym Douglas Dougal), as well as working as a ghost writer for a retired actress and singer. Only Nelly Mahone recognises Dougal for the manipulative "double-tongued" rogue he is, but no one listens to her as everyone views her as a drunken Irish vagrant. There is speculation as to him possibly being an incarnation of the Devil, but what is certain is that DD wreaks utter havoc in the lives of his co-workers and the residents of Peckham, the least of which is influencing Humphrey Place to dump his bride-to-be Dixie Morse at the altar, as we learn from the very beginning of the story.

The above is mostly summarized from wikipedia, because to be very honest, I was quite confused through this short novel. The only thing that was clear to me was that Douglas Dougal was one very strange fellow, at times amusing, at times maddening, and utterly unknowable. His "fatal flaw", as he likes to repeat, is that he can't stand illness in any form, which makes for some funny exchanges with the woman he thinks of as his girlfriend, whom he's let down through a difficult illness (she eventually announces to him she's marrying someone else). This flaw is fairly ironic as he himself has a deformation, with one shoulder being noticeably higher than the other. I've become a Muriel Spark fan in this past year, but can't say this was my favourite work by her so far. I wouldn't recommend someone new to Spark start with this one, but fans will probably enjoy her strange humour and it's probably the kind of book which becomes more enjoyable on a second reading. ( )
  Smiler69 | May 16, 2012 |
'You are a terror and a treat,' Dougal said.
'You look to me like an Okapi,' he said.
'A what?'
'An Okapi is a rare beast from the Congo. It looks a little like a deer, but it tries to be a giraffe. It has stripes and it stretches its neck as far as possible and its ears are like a donkey's. It is a little bit of everything. There are only a few in captivity. It is very shy.'
'Wy do you say I'm like it?'
'Because you're so shy.'
'Me shy?'
'Yes. You haven't told me about your love affair with Mr. Druce. You're too shy.'
'Oh, that's only a friendship. You've got it all wrong. What makes you think it's a love affair? Who told you that?'
'I've got second sight.'


When Dougal Douglas (aka Douglas Dougal and Mr Dougal-Douglas) comes to live in 1950s Peckham and gets a job in HR for a local company, he seems to cause trouble wherever he goes. He claims to be a devil, and likes to get people to feel the bumps on his head that he says are the remains of his horns, although his friend Humphrey is sure that they are just cysts.

I like Muriel Spark, but hadn't read this book before. I picked it up at a charity book sale at work, and it was well worth 25p. ( )
  isabelx | Mar 16, 2011 |
I'm becoming a bigger and bigger Muriel Spark fan (and not just because I'm eating too much these days). They're all of a type - Spark has a very distinctive style of writing, but it suits her splendidly, and makes her novels very easy to read.

The central question in this novel is perhaps about the devil (though I'm not sure - it's a short novel but there's a lot too it). Is Dougal Douglas a devil? Or just devilish? He tells awful, insensitive jokes, and still gets a laugh. He polarises the local population - they're either for or against him. He is a hunchback, and was supposedly born with horns on his head. He damages everybody's life in some way - though it's hard to sympathise with his victims because he does everything with such class and panache.

Like so many other of her novels, this is something of a minor classic; worth reading and celebrating, even if it doesn't make the 1001 Books list. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Sep 3, 2009 |
Published in 1960, this book has a lovely period feel to it but, for me, the comedy was thin. ( )
  CarltonC | Aug 8, 2009 |
This is how people used to talk when I was little. I don't know when they stopped. I hadn't noticed, I had forgotten it, and this brought it all back. Like how the Turkish have lost their specifically turkish gestures in one chapter of Pamuk's The Black Book (masterpiece). Deja vu. Contains usual Spark themes (e.g. affairs, secrets, responsibility for your actions question of, surveillance, jealousy). Sarky, hilarious and exquisitely plotted. The method for writing books by assembling cliches is hilarious. It seems to be a bit how writing works, all these characters looking for An Ear. 4/5 because it is perfect but within a narrow scope - give it 5/5 if you prefer the comic, the minute, the domestic etc. As War and Peace is my all time favourite novel, you can see why for me it's only 4. ( )
1 vote maiamaia | May 28, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spark, MurielAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bellone, Maria GraziaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crepax, MargheritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schnack, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811214087, Paperback)

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 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," declared The Washington Post, "the legendary character of Dougal Douglas . . . may not have been boasting when he referred so blithely to his association with the devil."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A man of devilish charm and enterprising spirit, Dougal Douglas is employed to revitalize the ailing firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley. He succeeds, but not quite in the way his employer intended. Strange things begin to happen as Dougal exerts an uncanny influence on the inhabitants of Peckham Rye and brings lies, tears, blackmail and even murder into the lives of all he meets, from Miss Merle Coverdale, head of the typing pool, to Beauty, the resident femme fatale, and even Mr Druce, the unsuspecting Managing Director himself.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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