A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark*****

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Reading dates: 04 August 2013 – 16 August 2013

A Far Cry From Kensington gave me nothing but delight. This is Spark in good form, mixing mystery — a case of anonymous letters — with sex, outrage and the publishing industry. It is interspersed with Mrs Hawkins’ good advice, from whom I learned a great deal of applicable tips. A banana keeps rheumatism away, before you marry someone see them drunk, if you want to lose weight eat half of everything, if you want to write a book, get a cat to help with concentration. In his wonderful biography of Spark, Martin Stannard writes that A Far Cry… is, together with Loitering With Intent, an autobiographical book. In fact, it is her revenge on Derek Stanford, which I waited to happen for most of my reading of Stannard’s book. And, as any revenge, it is sweeter when served cold. Spark portrays Stanford as Hector Bartlett, the pisseur de copie. She makes him an unequivocally despicable character, devious and vile, as shown in the scene where, as a dog bites half of his sausage roll, he dips the other half in mustard and feeds it back to the animal to make it sick. Bartlett costs Mrs Hawkins two jobs, but she keeps the moral high ground. She is not a pisseur de copie and she speaks her mind. There is dignity in that. Add Spark’s trademark non-sequiturs, her sense of fashion, her wonderful women (there is one called Abigail de Mordell Staines-Knight), death, her specific version of religion (appearing here as Hail Marys at noon) and waspish dialogue, and you will understand my utter delight.

A Far Cry … joins The Driver’s Seat, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Girls Of Slender Means, as one of my favourites.