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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 23 April 2012
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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on 26 October 2016
Books are well written or badly written, as Wilde puts it, and this one is excellent.Great book, also nice to listen to on CD.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 June 2016
I bought the Audible version of this book.

I've read a couple of Muriel Spark's novels, but wasn't familiar with this little delight. Most will know she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but to be honest, I was hard pushed to name other works. I think she's highly underrated as an author and as its some years since she died, it's easy for authors to go 'out of fashion'.

Her writing is exquisite. She paints such memorable pictures of her characters and, in this case, of the machinations of the publishing world in the mid part of the last century. The story is set in London in the 1950s and centres around Mrs Hawkins, a young widow, who worked in the industry and crossed ( verbal) swords with a second rate author. The repercussions are amusing and illuminating. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, they spring to life. I love her eloquence; one character is described as living 'her life in parenthesis'. Another speaks in waves which ebb and flow and occasionally rush over everything. It's a refreshing change to read a quiet, intelligent character driven story about human foibles. Muriel Spark has a sharp ear for dialogue and an eye for detail. I really enjoyed this and will look at more of her works.
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VINE VOICEon 11 July 2004
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.
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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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on 2 June 2006
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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on 13 August 2015
Even though I thought this quite a good little story, even though the descriptions were evocative, even though I could picture the characters I felt this was really quite lacklustre and a wee bit disappointing if I'm honest. It just didn't grab me.
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on 25 June 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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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.
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on 11 September 2013
This was a book club choice. I hadn't read anything by Muriel Spark and was pleasantly surprised. Witty and easy to read. The characters are interesting. Very articulate writing. i think there will be positive comments from other members.
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