Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

I can't believe its taken me this long to discover Muriel Spark! How could I have gone a quarter of a century without finding such a completely unique, intelligent, humorous, and shockingly Catholic writer? Whatever the answer may be, she's become a quick favourite author and I've only read two books thus far.

About a month ago or so I picked up The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie because its a modern classic supposedly. And I didn't read it too seriously, and to be perfectly honest for about three quarters of the book I completely didn't get it. Yes the writing was dead-on, the characters expertly crafted, the humour simmering beneath the surface, but it is the last 25 pages of that novel that left me completely gob-smacked. I feel like I still need to let it sit with me in order to fully appreciate it. I'm still gob-smacked.

A Far Cry From Kensington was written over twenty years after The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and because I haven't read much Muriel Spark I wondered if maybe this novel would be written past her prime so to speak. Instead I found a quirky, funny novel that accomplishes what is so seldom found in much modern literature but which singularly makes a book great; the ability to create and expose the everyday into the great drama which it truly is.

Spark usually writes in the first person of one of her characters, and in this book it is the charming and honest Mrs. Hawkins. She is honest in describing herself as a plump woman, living in a boarding house in 1954 London, who works in publishing and who inspires the confidences of almost all those around her. She fiercely describes those she shares her home with, not with malice but with a concise honestly that brings to life great quirkiness and vulnerabilities. The dramas involving those in her boarding house and those she works with at first don't seem to mix, and it is so entertaining the reader hardly notices. The plot begins to thicken however, when a literary leech named Hector Bartlett slithers into Mrs. Hawkins circle of publishing. She immediately confronts him with her upright honestly and states to his face that he is a "pisseur de copie". She stands up for good writing and against the despicable practice of someone trying to get published simply by hanging onto the coattails of someone famous.

For Mrs. Hawkins this leads to losing her job multiple times. She faces this problem head on and refuses to budge from her principals. The great twist occurs when Hector Bartlett seems to infiltrate Mrs. Hawkins personal life by coming in contact with some of her fellow boarders. What happens next really boils down to the seemingly innocuous way good battles evil in everyday life. Of course I'm not doing this book any amount of justice, you've just got to read it, I promise you'll be surprised at how much you enjoyment this book brings!

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, with Maggie Smith...?

    SO good.


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