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A Far Cry from Kensington (1988)

by Muriel Spark

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0594714,058 (3.89)177
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 at home Mrs. Hawkins soon uncovered evil: shady literary doings and a deadly enemy; anonymous letters, blackmail, and suicide. With aplomb, however, Mrs. Hawkins confidently set about putting things to order, little imagining the mayhem which would ensue. Now decades older, thin, successful, and delighted with life in Italy -- quite a far cry from Kensington -- Mrs. Hawkins looks back to all those dark doings, and recounts how her own life changed forever. She still, however, loves to give 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." A masterwork by "Britain's greatest living novelist" (Sunday Telegraph, 1999), A Far Cry from Kensington has been hailed as "outstanding" (The Observer) and "wickedly and adroitly executed" (The New York Times). "Far Cry is, among other things, a comedy that holds a tragedy as an egg-cup holds an egg" (Philadelphia Inquirer).… (more)
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    KayCliff: Both novels feature publishers in fiction.
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English (46)  Spanish (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Spark skilfully assembles an entertaining caper in a bygone London of sharing bedsits ("rooming houses") and dodgy niche-publishers in cramped offices. The story rattles on, thanks to picaresque, comical, credible characters, all with plenty going on beyond the initial outward appearance, as with our real selves. We stay grounded thanks to the narrator Mrs Hawkins, who inserts nuggets of homespun advice (on dating, jobhunting, and so on, as well as domestic tasks) alongside insights into the various characters she comes across, and around whom the story turns. Fine, brisk, discriminating writing. ( )
  eglinton | Mar 22, 2020 |
Funny, poignant tale about life in a rooming house, the publishing industry, and London during the post-war years. Murial Spark doesn't waste a single word. Added benefit: weight loss advice! ( )
  sblock | Jun 21, 2019 |
This my fourth Muriel Spark, all of them different contexts, all of them well-written and quirky. This has got to be my favorite so far, because of the publishing angle, for personal reasons--her protagonist is a copy editor, as was I, for thirty-plus years, as a freelancer--but, too, because I find most books uneven, or even fall down, at some point, and A Far Cry from Kensington was consistently fine from beginning to end. ( )
  copyedit52 | Jun 15, 2019 |
"A Far Cry from Kensington" has a lot to recommend it: a cleverly constructed plot, an amusing, well-drawn cast of characters, sharp details about life in the grey British nineteen fifties and, a likable protagonist's slow progress toward an independent adulthood and a career in the publishing industry -- which Spark describes as bracingly chaotic and continually floundering -- and enough British eccentricity to satisfy any BBC America viewer. It's light stuff and a short read, but even if it's not an "important" novel, it's enjoyable to spend time with an author of Muriel Spark's caliber as she indulges in her literary whims. I also wonder if "A Far Cry" isn't a sort of sly response to the gaggle of self-help books that packed the shelves at about the time it was released. The book's main character lost weight specifically to outgrow what she saw as a too-motherly persona, but she's still full of commonsense advice drawn from her own observations. You could do much worse than to learn about life and other people from Muriel Spark and Mrs. Hawkins. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Dec 27, 2018 |
The story of Mrs Hawkins, who works in publishing and makes an enemy of the appalling Hector by calling him a "pisseur de copie" (clearly a lot more French was spoken in London in the 50s...), and the consequences this has in her life and the lives of her fellow lodgers. Mrs Hawkins was an excellent and amusing character and the entire supporting cast was well-drawn.

I would give this five stars were it not for the dated storyline relating to radionics (which I had to look up to check it was an actual thing - it is!) ( )
1 vote pgchuis | Jun 5, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
''A Far Cry From Kensington,'' her 18th novel, is the perfect vehicle for her to win over Philistines like me. At the risk of being drummed out of the Book Reviewers Union, I feel the best way to convey the pleasure this novel gives is to compare it to a wonderful old Alec Guinness movie, something along the lines of ''The Lavender Hill Mob.'' True, it follows the rules of art right down the line and illuminates the human condition, etc. But it also meets a trickier challenge, that of being superb entertainment
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spark, Murielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Allisio, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Andreasen, Mogens WenzelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bachmann, ÞórdísTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bayer, OttoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boyd, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bron, EleanorNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Day, LucienneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dilé, LéoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dimitriu-Sora, IleanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juan, Maribel deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ramos, WandaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singer, MosheTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, AliIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, AlanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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So great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence.
What do we do with our lives? (Introduction)
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Insomnia is not bad in itself. You can lie awake at night and think; the quality of insomnia depends entirely on what you decide to think of. Can you decide to think? -- Yes, you can.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 at home Mrs. Hawkins soon uncovered evil: shady literary doings and a deadly enemy; anonymous letters, blackmail, and suicide. With aplomb, however, Mrs. Hawkins confidently set about putting things to order, little imagining the mayhem which would ensue. Now decades older, thin, successful, and delighted with life in Italy -- quite a far cry from Kensington -- Mrs. Hawkins looks back to all those dark doings, and recounts how her own life changed forever. She still, however, loves to give 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." A masterwork by "Britain's greatest living novelist" (Sunday Telegraph, 1999), A Far Cry from Kensington has been hailed as "outstanding" (The Observer) and "wickedly and adroitly executed" (The New York Times). "Far Cry is, among other things, a comedy that holds a tragedy as an egg-cup holds an egg" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

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Book description
When Mrs Hawkins tells Hector Bartlett he is a "pisseur de copie, that he 'urinates frightful prose', little does she realise the repercussions. Holding that 'no life can be carried on satisfactorily unless people are honest' she refuses to retract her judgement and, as Bartlett has friends in high places, this costs her not one, but two much-sought-after jobs in publishing.
Now, years older, successful and, happily, a far cry from Kensington, Mrs Hawkins looks back over the dark days that followed, in which she was embroiled in a mystery involving anonymous letters, quack remedies, blackmail and suicide.
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