A Far Cry from Kensington - Muriel Spark

If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp … The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

I am trying to get to know Muriel Spark’s work a little better before going to an event celebrating her work at the end of this month, so I am reading up on a few of her works because the only one I had known was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

A few books into this little project and I have a new book to use as a benchmark of her work: A Far Cry From Kensington.

It took me a while to get into the book. I even re-read the beginning a couple of times because I just could not make out what she was going on about. Was this a serious book or not?

Once I set every expectation aside and just let the story unfold, it became pretty clear that not much in the book was what it seemed. Advice given by the MC, was not meant to be serious advice. On the contrary, it was mockery. The whole idea of our larger than life protagonist being singled out and put on show by any of the characters in the novel was a mockery, a spoof, and most of all an exercise in exorcism as little by little our MC finds the confidence in her own voice and her own pursuit of life to stand up to the curses that have tried to bring her down.

This will probably remain my favourite Spark for quite some time. It was a suspenseful little story told expertly with a lot of wit. Yet, there was also some warmth to it, which was not something I have seen in Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, or Memento Mori.


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