Book Review – A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

First published, 1988

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I love Muriel Spark. Love her. And I’m rather annoyed with myself because I thought I’d already written this review but I’ve clearly been distracted by my own life – rather like Mrs. Hawkins in this delight of a short novel.

Mrs. Hawkins is a rather rotund, but comfortable with it, war widow, reminiscing about her life in publishing thirty years ago. The publishing house she works for is failing, and she lives in a boarding house with a bunch of colourful characters. As ever, Spark draws the extraordinary out of the seemingly ordinary, and the chaos brought about by an anonymous letter is the main pull of the narrative. That, and the entirely odious, manipulative, failed writer, Hector Bartlett, who has to rely on the connections of his paramour to get even a sniff of a book deal.

That Mrs. Hawkins refers to him, quite thoroughly and repeatedly, as a pisseur de copie (a hack), seems to bring her great entertainment and this reader wondered if perhaps, though her life is filled with friends and people who rely on her for advice (probably due to her size), her relationship to Hector Bartlett was one of the most important in her life.

Maybe that’s me reading too much into it. In any case, the prose is dazzling, the wit sublime, the characters are memorable, and the snapshot of 1950s London with which the reader is gifted, make for a truly delightful novel.