A Far Cry from Kensington, Muriel Spark

I just cannot decide how I feel about this book.  I read about it at Superfastreader’s blog, and it sounded so lovely I decided to break my longstanding but baseless boycott of Muriel Spark.  This rarely happens with my baseless boycotts.  Nobody has ever managed to make Gore Vidal, Philip Roth, Vikram Seth, or Iris Murdoch sound appealing enough that I will read their books.  But I got A Far Cry from Kensington out of the library.  I like to read books about London that talk about streets I know, so I was pleased when she mentioned the roads in South Kensington.  (I love South Kensington.)

A Far Cry from Kensington is about a war widow called Mrs. Hawkins who works in publishing and is generally considered to be reliable and excellent, because she is a widow and because she is fat and comfortable-looking.  She says an insulting thing to a person who is very aggravating and aspires to be a writer, and her refusal to retract her perfectly valid insult causes her and other people a certain amount of trouble.  She is never sorry she said the thing to the aggravating man, although I believe by the end I would have been.

I was sad there wasn’t more about the publishing industry Back In The Day.  I think I expected this to be a book that was fairly solidly anchored in the publishing milieu (I just italicized milieu and it made me feel really pretentious), and what there was about publishing was really interesting, but mostly it wasn’t focused on that.  I found the book comfortable and nice, but I wasn’t hugely attached to any of the characters.  I think I would have liked it better if Mrs. Hawkins had been a smidge more acerbic in her thoughts.  But I can’t decide what my verdict is on this book.  I will have to read some other of Muriel Spark’s books, before I make a final decision about her.

  • Sorry it wasn’t better for you, but I’m glad you gave it a try!

  • Marcela

    I just read this book for a book club meeting and I was very disappointed. I loved the character’s humor and wit, her observations about people’s behavior and her many advises, but this book seemed to be about nothing at all. Funny, in the book, Mrs. Hawkins declines publishing a huge novel from an aspiring writter because the book “really seemed to be about nothing at all”. Hmmm, Mrs. Hawkins should have told that to Muriel Spark too.

    • I agree! I thought Muriel Spark created an excellent protagonist, and then couldn’t decide what to do with her, so she didn’t do hardly anything. It’s made me a little leery of picking up more Muriel Spark books since then.