A Far Cry from Kensington

Muriel Spark

“I enjoy a puritanical and moralistic nature; it is my happy element to judge between right and wrong regardless of what I might actually do.”

I read Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington over the course of a day at the beach and it was a perfect beach read. This is not a story that is likely to stay with me for very long but it was entertaining and charming all the same.

A Far Cry from Kensington is the story of Mrs. Hawkins, a young literary editor who describes a prominent colleague and aspiring novelist as a “pisseur de copie” who “urinates frightful prose.” When she refuses to retract her opinion, she suffers the loss of two jobs and a dear friend.

This novel struck me as being the literary equivalent of a British television sitcom. Spark’s writing is clever, witty, poised and at times deeply funny. This story of Mrs. Hawkins reads the way a good friend might share a story with you. It is conversational, unassuming and intimate in style, which was enjoyable.

Based on the blurb from the back of the book I was a bit surprised by the plot of the story. There was definitely a movement towards the mystery genre and Mrs. Hawkins and her housemates find themselves navigating the fragile lines of friendship, trust, suspicion and intrigue. I thought this was quite an interesting side to the story and definitely added more depth to the narrative. One of my issues with this novel is the way the story was resolved. I saw a lot of hinting towards the truth but I don’t think I really grasped the conclusion of the episode and was a bit confused as to the exact roles each of the characters played in the tragedy that strikes Mrs. Hawkins and her housemates.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book. It felt to me that these were all people I had met before or might bump into on the street. Mrs. Hawkins enemy, Hector Bartlett (the “pisseur de copie”) is an egotistical, manipulative bully who uses those around him for his own personal gain. There is Milly, the landlord of Mrs. Hawkins’ flat, who is a devout Catholic and a close friend to all of her borders. There is the always-fighting couple who lives next door, there is young and spoiled Isobel, who calls her father every single day. There is the medical student William, Kate, the young nurse, the young couple Basil and Eva, and the Polish seamstress Wanda. There are also numerous characters from Mrs. Hawkins’ workplaces but my favourite is Patrick, whose wife is somehow convinced that Mrs. Hawkins is seducing and stealing her husband away. These characters are not novel or complex, but they are familiar and homey in a way that creates a sense of family and comfort.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as a quick read to entertain me in the sunshine on a noisy and distracting beach. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are looking for something with a lot of substance but, as a quick and amusing read, this won’t disappoint.

 

Story: 6/10

Writing: 7/10

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