January 24, 2012

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark: Review

Pin It

Despite having a couple of Muriel Spark's books on my shelves, I've never read any of her books. Seeing that the library had A Far Cry from Kensington available as an audiobook, I thought maybe that was the way to ease into them.

It's difficult to explain the plot to anyone. It's all over the place and I wondered how things were going to come together by the end.

In the 1950s, Mrs Hawkins lived in a rooming house in Kensington with a variety of characters. She worked for a shady publishing house (her boss would be convicted of forgery) and she was obese. She noticed that being a large woman meant people thought of her as matronly and reliable, even though she was a 28 year old widow. This caused them to ask for her advice. Eventually, she would tire of the burden of their problems and shed her extra pounds. (Remember this, it's important.)

Anyway, Mrs Hawkins has a nemesis, Hector Barlett, a guy she calls a pisseur de copie. He's an ass kisser extraordinaire with anyone involved in publishing, including Mrs Hawkins. When she insults him, he works hard to make her life miserable. Meanwhile, the rooming house is involved in a mystery. One of the tenants is getting threatening letters and phone calls. Plus another tenant's father keeps asking Mrs Hawkins to find the young lady a job in publishing. So, she has her full at home and work.

These events push Mrs Hawkins to make some life changing decisions. Ones that will take her far from Kensington.

I enjoyed so much about A Far Cry from Kensington: the quirky characters, the setting, even the plot though I wondered where it was going. Mrs Hawkins is a sensible woman, most of the time. She can't help herself around Hector Barlett, however. He brings out the worst in her and keeps costing her jobs. He himself is a character you have to hate. Everything about him is hateful. Even though I cringed every time Mrs Hawkins called him a pisseur de copie, I couldn't help admiring her tell-it-like-it-is attitude. She won't compromise her morals for a job.

It was interesting that the publishing industry at that time is portrayed as a being peopled with well intentioned yet incompetent fools. They are a cast of forgers and upper class twits, yet everyone wants to be in publishing. Even Mrs Hawkins can't seem to break herself out of the business. Perhaps because although it's a trade, it's a high class one, perceived as being full of a better class of people.

Even though the mystery is a big part of the plot, it's always in the background. It isn't until the end that we see just how big a part it has been playing. It was there all the time. Quite sneaky.

Mrs Hawkins isn't a character I will forget soon.

Recommended.

About the Audio: I was convinced that the narrator, Pamela Garelick, was Mrs Hawkins. Her voice encapsulates her. She's very good with other characters' voices and accents as well. In one case, there is a very minor character with just a few lines of dialogue. This woman is a Polish immigrant living in Scotland. She gives her a Polish accent with a hint of a Scottish brogue. It was perfect. Great attention to detail.

Ratings:

Photobucket

Photobucket

9 comments :

  1. This sounds marvelous! I love it when a plot pulls together in the end like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wondered how it was going to work out but it did.

      Delete
  2. I really enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, because it was rather unpredictable, and I have Girls of Slender Means on my shelf. But I'll gladly add this one now - sounds typical Spark and I love that :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think I already told you A Far Cry from Kensington is my favorite Muriel Spark book. It's been a long, long time since I read it (I've read it more than once, though). I do remember it had both laughs and drama. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did! I will be giving more of her books a try.

      Delete
  4. I read the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie a week ago which was my first Spark novel, the characters in that were quirky and I loved how the narrator would suddenly drop in what will happen to a certain character in 30 years time before going back to the main story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That must be her style since she did that often in this one too. I've heard good things about Jean Brodie. I'll be looking out for that one.

      Delete
  5. i love muriel spark, her plots are sometimes daffy-seeming but her books pulse with intelligence and wit.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for visiting! Please leave a comment. I've disabled Anonymous comments since I've had a barrage of Anon spam lately. Sorry about that.