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The Ballad of Peckham Rye Unknown Binding – 1963


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  • Unknown Binding
  • ASIN: B0028265L6
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,422,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Get away from here, you dirty swine,' she said. Read the first page
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Sedon on 5 Jan 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinary story full of humour, both in exchanges between the characters and overall. It is a well-written book full of satire and whimsy.

It is hard to explain why this book is so good without disclosing too much of the story-line, but I will try. Dougal Douglas, a young Scots Arts graduate, is taken on by a small manufacturing company in Peckham. In short order, by a combination of devilry, charm, loquacity and sheer cheek, he manages to hold down two jobs, while also writing a book. He is a mischief-maker and almost everyone he comes into contact with becomes disturbed, even distressed. This leads to a murder, an attempted murder and a jilting at the altar. He makes a speedy exit when he is in danger of being unmasked. One doubts whether this sleepy part of South London will ever be the same again.

I really enjoyed "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", but this book is in a class apart. Another writer would have told the story in twice the length, but Miss Spark tells it with sparse prose, for twice the effect.
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By Bob Sherunkle TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Sep 2014
Format: Paperback
In this novel, the pre-1963 stasis of Peckham Rye-as-it-never-was is turned upside down by the maverick Dougal Douglas. I have just read it for the first time, and - to damn with rather faint praise – it is the sort of novel which would have amused me if I’d read it at school in the 1960s, but now seems a bit laboured and unfunny. You could say it has become a period piece, in contrast to Miss Jean Brodie and Girls of Slender Means, which were written as period pieces, but it doesn’t stand comparison with either of them.

In his introduction to the 1999 Penguin edition, William Boyd almost becomes an apologist for the novel. He says, “I don’t wish to posit this as some sort of social document in the Sillitoe-Wain- Amis school”, and argues that Dougal is not, as one might imagine, “an urban, low-grade Lucifer”. I think he is wrong on both these points. The atmosphere reminded me very much of Malcolm Bradbury’s Eating People is Wrong, and Dougal descends upon the community to wreak havoc, for all the world like Darryl Van Horne in Witches of Eastwick.

It took me less than two hours to read this, and I don’t think I’ll bother again.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Jan 2008
Format: Paperback
This novel was new when I first picked it up for a train journey. I had been reading a good deal about Muriel Spark in newspaper notices at the time, so this was the chance to find out for myself. It was love at first read, and I was curious whether the wonder of it all might have survived the decades.

Muriel Spark's work is commonly classified as `satire', and I suppose that's fair. However something that her early admirers, including Evelyn Waugh, stressed was that she is not really like anyone else, and I believe that is true also. Obviously, satire has contemporary themes, so it might seem a likely candidate for early obsolescence, but a few moments' thought suggests otherwise. Juvenal Voltaire Swift and Macaulay have not exactly gone out of fashion, and are still read with enjoyment by people who cannot be bothered to look up their contemporary allusions, and 40 or more years after it was launched the satirical magazine Private Eye seems not only to be still going strong but to have passed on its special vocabulary, originally attached to figures now little remembered, to a new generation of fans. Small wonder in that case that Mrs Spark is still wearing well.

For newcomers to the author, this is as good an introduction as any. It is completely characteristic of her, it does not threaten memory overload with a huge cast of characters as The Bachelors possibly does, it stops short of being downright weird like The Hothouse by the East River, but on the other hand it escapes being lightweight like The Abbess of Crewe or even the immortal Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The basic story is summed up pretty well above - charming outsider arrives in community and causes all sorts of disruption. It's a well established formula, but Muriel Spark does do it here with real panache. Dougal Douglas is charming, funny, a little bit sinister, and the characters around him are believable portraits rather than just 'types'. Spark creates a funny and affectionate portrait of working-class (and more middle class) Peckham as a result of this acute skill for character.

What takes away from the book a little is that the ending doesn't seem quite believable, though I won't spoil it for you by explaining. Also, whilst Dougal is a great character, I did wonder at times whether he would actually get away with what he's credited with here, and I really wanted some sort of explanation eventually of his actions. Whilst leaving him a bit of an enigma does leave the reader to speculate, I did find it a little unsatisfactory.

Overall, then, a good read - amusing, well-drawn, intrigiung - but maybe a tiny bit slight in that it doesn't probe much beyond the surface.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By jbroad on 28 Jan 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Muriel Spark's work deserves to be revisited. Her style is very economical, presenting credible characters in just a few words. The Peckham Rye of the 1950s comes alive in her humorous account, which is short, but perfectly formed.The Ballad of Peckham Rye (Penguin Modern Classics)
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