Monday, April 16, 2012
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
As many of you are aware, Simon from StuckInABook is hosting a Muriel Spark Reading Week from April 23 - 29. I am also excited that Harriet is co-hosting as her blog has become another favourite place for me to drop by and discover new book titles or lovely art. Last but far from least, Thomas designed the gorgeous button everyone has been posting in support of what is surely to be an informative and entertaining reading event.
The reason I chose A Far Cry From Kensington is two fold. First, it was the only title by this author on the shelf at the library branch where I work. Second, when Virago issued their clothbound 30th anniversary editions in 2008, I had no idea who Muriel Spark was so I passed this title by. Shocking, but still, I can't be picking up every book with a pretty cover on the off chance I'll be totally enamoured with the writing at some later date now can I? Better late than never though, it must be said. So without further ado...
It's 1954 and Mrs Hawkins is a widow, her husband killed during World War II. Despite being only in her mid-twenties she exudes an aura of someone older with her comforting advice and generous waistline. Her fellow residents in the rooming house located in South Kensington are much like an extended family with a varied cast of interesting characters (but aren't we all?). Mrs Hawkins spends her working day in a converted Queen Anne house which is the office of Ullswater Press, a small publishing company. Her travels throughout various neighbourhoods of London made me want to do something silly and click 'Book Now' on the British Airways website. I digress.
One day while strolling in Green Park, Mrs Hawkins is approached by the annoying Hector Bartlett who is a tad over-confident about his writing skills. Knowing that Mrs Hawkins works at Ullswater Press he strikes up a conversation with her but is quickly struck down with the cutting moniker of 'Pisseur de copie', the translation being something like 'urinates frightful prose'. A statement which became more hilarious every time I knew it was about to be handed out since Mrs Hawkins is nothing if not faithful to her assessment of this pest in a suit.
Back at home, the tenants of the rooming house are faced with a mystery when Wanda, the Polish dressmaker, receives an anonymous letter. She is threatened with exposure to the authorities for not disclosing her business details and income. As everyone speculates about who this mysterious person(s) could be, Wanda's paranoia grows. As horrifying and sad an image as this could be, Spark has employed clever humour and made the storylines one of the most delightful combinations of mystery/whimsy/comedy I've ever had the pleasure to read. Perfect stuff for chasing away rainy day blahs or cuddling up with during dratted flu episodes so don't pass up an opportunity to add it to your bedside table.
Thanks to Simon for bringing yet another wonderful author to my attention. I've read that Loitering with Intent is another popular choice in Sparks' oeuvre but if you have another particular favourite, please share with the rest of us. The more the merrier!