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Life in the early 1950s
on 23 July 2010
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
Muriel Spark's novel, first published in 1988, is a slight, inconsequential affair, centering on the occupants of a rooming-house in South Kensington in 1954.
Having recently read Stannard's biography of the author, it is clear that the narrator, Mrs. Hawkins, is Muriel Spark herself and that many of the events in the book are taken from her own life.
The novel recalls a period when tenants of a big house in London did talk to one another, when most people were short of money, when clothes were repaired rather than taken to the charity shop, when class distinctions seemed to matter less.
The narrator is a detached observer of her life, so much so, that an important event like getting together with her boyfriend almost takes herself, and the reader, by surprise. It can be like that in real life as well, I suppose.
The publishing world of the early 1950s is especially well evoked, which is as it should be, since it is based on Spark's own experiences. I suspect things have not changed much in publishing in the intervening years.
An enjoyable novel, which can be read in an afternoon.