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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ~A real gem of a novel- review of VMC Designer Edition~
I am utterly in love with the VMC Designer Collection- gorgeous covers and delightful stories with great introductions by other well-known authors, so for me this was another must-read to add to my (rapidly growing) set. With its elegant prose, memorable narrator and a fantastic character driven plot, this book may have introduced me to Muriel Spark but I will definitely...
Published on 23 April 2012 by Nicola F (Nic)

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life in the early 1950s
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...
Published on 23 July 2010 by Mr. T. Harvey


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ~A real gem of a novel- review of VMC Designer Edition~, 23 April 2012
By 
Nicola F (Nic) (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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I am utterly in love with the VMC Designer Collection- gorgeous covers and delightful stories with great introductions by other well-known authors, so for me this was another must-read to add to my (rapidly growing) set. With its elegant prose, memorable narrator and a fantastic character driven plot, this book may have introduced me to Muriel Spark but I will definitely be reading more by her in future.

Told from the perspective of the no-nonsense and utterly dependable Mrs Hawkins, the book revolves around her life within the publishing profession and her relationship with her neighbours within the boarding house where she resides. Though not a lot appears to happen on the surface, there is something of a mystery centred on a blackmail plot in the narrative, as well as Mrs Hawkins numerous encounters with an author who she continually offends and appears to enjoy putting in his place, much to the detriment of her career. Evocative of 1950's London and Sparks' own experiences of the time, the book is a realistic look into a forgotten era and laced with titbits of advice from the protagonist, delivered in a very matter of fact fashion.

This book will not only look spectacular on your bookshelf- but it is such a lovely little read too and filled with subtle humour and dark comedy. I will definitely be recommending it to my friends and you will most likely enjoy it if you favour light-hearted, character rather than plot driven novels. Recommended.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Spark's best novels - witty, dark, totally credible, 8 Mar 2001
Muriel Spark's prose is colourful and precise, and in 'A Far Cry From Kensington', she marries an engaging plot with a razor-sharp observational style. The utterly credible character of Mrs. Hawkins guides us through Milly's boarding house with a refreshingly high degree of common sense, enabling the reader to become utterly embroiled in the mystery of Wanda's persecutor. The dialogue is so highly charged that you may find yourself re-reading chapters again and again, just in case you have missed a vital clue to the identity of the blackmailer.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No half portions here - read in full, 11 July 2004
By 
Amanda Richards "Hotpurplekoolaid" (ECD, Guyana) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This is one of those books that cannot described in a nutshell. If you had to hazard a guess at a description, you'd have to place it firmly in the comedy/ tragedy/ drama/ mystery/ romance section, or simply file it under Spark: Muriel in the Classics section.
Narrated by the once round and central character, Agnes Hawkins (a.k.a. Mrs. Hawkins or Nancy), the story revolves around her experiences as a young widow living in furnished rooms in a semi-detached building in South Kensington. She colorfully describes her neighbors and acquaintances, and gives us tantalizing glimpses into their little secret worlds, in which she is a trustee and confidante.
Despite the mysterious black boxes and the lurking threat of enemies, known and unknown, our heroine manages to keep her head above water, remains a pillar of strength and finds true love among the rubble. Thanks to her diet plan (freely given to the reader as a bonus for purchasing the book), she gains new self-respect, and reinvents herself in a new country, a far cry from her humble beginnings.
A simple classic by an inspired writer.
^AR
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars second reading even better than the first, 2 Jun 2006
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This slim novel contains a simple yet mesmerising story. I picked it back off my shelf after reading Muriel Sparks obituary - what an amazing life and writer. I remember loving this book the first time round - how you get to explore 1950's london with the 'looks can be deceiving' Mrs Hawkins, you find your self in the parks and old pre-renovated buildings surrounded by well spun characters. Mrs Hawkins is a wise and wry voice within, she can see right through the pretense and ever so nicely puts bad behaviour in its place - she is your classic reason for never judging a book by its cover. On finishing this beloved book for the second time (8 years after the first) I posted it to my friend in Australia, a writer who will once again walk the streets of London in Sparks evocative little piece of perfection.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 7 Aug 2013
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Muriel Spark is one of the great writers since 1945 for a reason. This is an inspiring, insightful and compelling read. I just love the way that the plot concludes and ties itself up so neatly; very satisfying. Well worth it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Long Way From Home, 21 May 2013
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Far Cry from Kensington (Unabridged) (Audio Download)
I picked up a copy of Muriel Sparks, "A Far Cry from Kensington" on a friend's recommendation, and I loved it. Mrs. Nancy. Hawkins, the main character is a woman that everyone depends upon and needs to talk with. She has that certain way about her that summons trust and understanding. The fact that her figure is zaftig and that she is a widow lends credence she believes to her trust factor.
Mrs. Hawkins tells her story from a 30 year distance. It is 1954, post World War II, and she is living in a furnished room near Kensington. She has several neighbors of interest and Milly the landlady, was one of the more interesting. She was also a widow and was
Known as an organizer, She was able to organize everyone and everything. Basil and Eva Carlin were a quiet couple and lived on the first floor. Wanda Podolak lived next to them. She was a Polish dressmaker. Kate Parker lived at the end of the hall. She was a district nurse and suffered no germs at all- she was constantly cleaning. On the attic floor, lived a medical student William Todd.
Mrs. Hawkins was an editor at a publishing house and in due time she lost her job and went on to several others. She was excellent at her job, and, of course, everyone confided in her. She knew everything that was going on with everyone. Like the rooming house she lived in, Mrs. Hawkins spent her days and evenings giving advice. The rooming house becomes involved with Wanda and her anonymous letters that turn into blackmail and eventually into big trouble. Along the way, we meet Hector Bartlett, a charlatan who turns many lives upside down.

Mrs. Hawkins gives advice to many and one day she looks in the mirror and discovers that she is too obese. She resolves to lose weight, and by eating only half portions and then quarter portions, she does just that. Her fine bone structure is revealed, and her new body structure also attracts many men. She finds herself in a relationship with William Todd the medical student, which eventually turns into a marriage. Thirty years later,
Mrs. Hawkins, so wonderfully happy with her life in Italy, "a far cry from Kensington",
looks back at her life and continues to offer us advice.
Muriel Sparks has been called "Britain's greatest living novelist", and she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1993 and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1996. She lives in Tuscany, Italy. An outstanding story, told by a wonderful novelist.

Recommended. pris rob
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life in the early 1950s, 23 July 2010
By 
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to rave about, 4 Sep 2014
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Mildly amusing and easy to read. Thinly drawn cast of secondary characters that could have done with being fleshed out bit more.The author leaves lots of loose ends and the ending is very weak.However, the prose is good. All in all, with the vast amount of good literature available, I would not recommend this.
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4.0 out of 5 stars 1950s London vividly remembered but still not perhaps her best, 25 Jun 2014
Mrs Hawkins recollects in tranquility events from her youth living in a rooming house in Kensington and working in publishing. As the introduction by Ali Smith points out this was a milieu and time the author understood well from her own life.

The life and the times are indeed summoned up very vividly here - post War London still recovering from austerity. And there is much pleasure to be had from the narrative style which combines lightness of touch and distance from the terrible (and joyful) events recounted together with a measure of sympathy.

That said, I have enjoyed some is Muriel Spark's other novels more - there is a strong collection of four novels published in the Everyman's Library series including The Only Problem that I would recommend more strongly.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine far cry, 16 Jun 2014
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Such a funny book. Made me laugh out loud. Spark's prose is delightfully sparse. Cannot recommend it highly enough! Enjoy.
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