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A Far Cry from Kensington Paperback – September, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even the title is witty in this latest of Spark's delightful novels, bearing as it does at least three layers of ambiguity. It is a tale told in a splendidly commonsensical way by Mrs. Hawkins, a buxom young war widow who is a tower of strength in a failing London publishing house during the lean years after WW II. She is surrounded, both at work and in her seedy Kensington boarding house, by those slightly off-center eccentrics the Englishand particularly Sparkdraw to perfection; everything on the surface seems utterly realistic, yet fantasy as rich as anything in Garcia Marquez is only a breath away. Mrs. Hawkins selects a hate object among the literary hangers-on at her firm, and that hatred changes her life. She also becomes involved with a Polish dressmaker with a dark secret, invents a supremely successful method of dieting and almost in spite of herself becomes happy. Spark knows the wonderfully zany world of postwar-London publishing backward, her wit has never been more telling, and any book person is going to gobble this up. A sample, to whet the appetite: "Publishers, for obvious reasons, attempt to make friends with their authors. Martin York tried to make authors of his friends."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This 1988 novel is told from the perspective of Mrs. Hawkins, who, now living a leisurely existence in Italy, looks back on her days as a young widow employed by an oddball publisher. Typical Spark, the plot soon becomes laced with mystery involving blackmail, suicide, and other dastardly doings. Great fun.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Classic
  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; 3rd ptg edition (September 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811214575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811214575
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,361,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dame Muriel Spark's 'A Far Cry From Kensington' (1988) is the bookend companion to her 1981 classic, 'Loitering With Intent.' Both novels share a common theme, and like the earlier novel, 'A Far Cry From Kensington' is largely autobiographical and takes place in virtually the same setting and time period: the literary world of early Fifties London. Both are explorations, via reminiscence, of the banality of everyday evil, taking place among the workaday, routine lives of the lower middle class.

Less scathing if no less hilarious than many of its predecessors, the relatively unsung 'A Far Cry From Kensington' is the most realistic and humane novel among the twenty-odd Spark wrote. It is also exceptional in that it is the single Spark fiction in which a love affair blossoms into a successful relationship of duration.

The story of the universally respected though immensely overweight Mrs. Hawkins, 'A Far Cry From Kensington' follows two divergent threads in her daily life: the mounting sufferings of a rooming house neighbor who is being anonymously threatened, and the problems that stem from her own continuous encounters with Hector Bartlett, a manipulative sycophant who hopes to use her footholds in the publishing world to advance his nonexistent literary career.

While 'Loitering With Intent' can be read as something of a tactical combat manual, 'A Far Cry From Kensington' is instructive in the art of deduction: caught up in a spiraling series of mysterious and increasingly serious coincidences, Mrs. Hawkins, short of both hard facts and physical evidence, actively unravels the odd events that are taking a toll on both the lives of her friends and her editorial career.

Fully realizing she is as prone to misjudgment as anyone, Mrs.
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By A Customer on March 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is my favorite book by a wonderful writer. It's also, I feel, her most personal book; in a way, it's more personal than her autobiography. It's a memoir, written thirty years after the events described. The narrator, Nancy (at the beginning of the book, when she's obese, other people address her as Mrs. Hawkins. Later, after she loses a lot of weight, she becomes Nancy to them ) is a young widow wholives in a rooming-house in the lower-class suburb of Kensington. Among the other roomers is a Polish immigrant dressmaker, a displaced person, whose personal fate is connected with Nancy's. Although Nancy doesn't realize it at the time, she is herself a displaced person: rootless, alone in the world, with no strong attachments, and given to dreaming her days away riding buses all day whenever she's out of work. She works as an editor, first for a publishing company that publishes good books but is going bankrupt; then for a publishing firm that's run by some vey eccentric characters who don't even read books, but is very successful financially; and finally, for an arty magazine. Into Nancy's life comes a real villain: Hector Bartlett. He's madly ambitious for a writing career, but has absolutely no talent, and, except for when he's plotting revenge, is quite stupid. He manages to attach himself, leech-like, to a famous woman novelist. He also tries to get Nancy to "use her influence" to introduce him to her boss. Irritated by his persistent sycophancy, his lack of talent and general smarminess, one day she insults him. She calls him a pisseur de copie.Read more ›
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This is one of those books that cannot described in a nutshell. If you had to hazard a guess at a description, you'd have to place it firmly in the comedy/ tragedy/ drama/ mystery/ romance section, or simply file it under Spark: Muriel in the Classics section.

Narrated by the once round and central character, Agnes Hawkins (a.k.a. Mrs. Hawkins or Nancy), the story revolves around her experiences as a young widow living in furnished rooms in a semi-detached building in South Kensington. She colorfully describes her neighbors and acquaintances, and gives us tantalizing glimpses into their little secret worlds, in which she is a trustee and confidante.

Despite the mysterious black boxes and the lurking threat of enemies, known and unknown, our heroine manages to keep her head above water, remains a pillar of strength and finds true love among the rubble. Thanks to her diet plan (freely given to the reader as a bonus for purchasing the book), she gains new self-respect, and reinvents herself in a new country, a far cry from her humble beginnings.

A simple classic by an inspired writer.

Amanda Richards
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In a novel narrated by a character who believes it her life mission to dispense advice, author Muriel Spark has her counsel a would-be writer to imagine confiding in a letter to a personal friend and to write the story that way. Spark has followed her own advice and it works delightfully. The best part of her approach is that she puts out some dramatic irony so that the reader is not just a passive listener accepting of everything the narrator asserts but is aware that not quite all of her advice, nor her assessment of herself, is always on target. There is a sly wit and spot-on social observations in full bloom here.
This is the story of a woman told looking back to 30 years before, to 1954, to a rooming house in Kensington, London, a far cry from her present circumstances. In 1954, she is "Mrs. Hawkins," no first name, with the heft of a zaftig figure and the tragedy of being a war widow. Everyone knows who she is though she does not always know them in return; she is expected, she believes, to hand out advice, to take care of others, and commensurate with this station in life, she is a mid-level editor in publishing. She has lots of plates twirling on sticks: her world at the rooming house, her job, herself. Then along comes Hector Bartlett who embodies what she hates the most: an ambitious but grossly untalented writer, a sycophant. The upright Mrs. Hawkins, loyal to the truth as she sees it, nails him with a particularly appropriate French vulgarism that becomes a refrain for her has he periodically intrudes on her life, a vulgarism that keeps costing her jobs. Because of Hector, her story becomes a series of reversals, from the tragic to the comic.
There are many characters, many amusing episodes, many trenchant observations going on in this book.
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