Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Bright Spark

In my teens, I read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ – and despite that schoolmistress employing somewhat unconventional methods, and encouraging distinctly inappropriate beliefs and behaviour among ‘her gels’ there were some aspects of her character I admired. She brought wit and sparkle into the classroom – and she used her vocabulary properly.

And Maggie Smith was exactly right in the role.

miss jean brodie

muriel spark

But I never read anything else by Muriel Spark. I don’t know why. I just didn’t! And if you had asked me what she looked like, I think my mental picture would have been …Maggie Smith!

But Liz has recently lent me “A Far Cry From Kensington” saying “I think you’ll enjoy this, Mum” and she was [as ever] dead right! Her copy is a delightful Virago Modern Classic edition.

spark - far cry from Kensington

The cover of the book is the iconic Lucienne Day print ‘Calyx’ – which dates back to the Festival of Britain in 1951. As the book is set in the mid fifties, this is wonderfully apposite.

The plot revolves round Nancy Hawkins, a young war widow, living in rooms in Kensington, and working in a publishing house.

Like MissJB, this book is full of pithy sentences, and I found it great fun to read. Passages like

[He] was full of unconventional advice which savoured of officers’-mess lore “The way to throw the Income Tax, Mrs Hawkins” he said, “is to send them, out of the blue, a cheque for eight pounds seventeen and three…They can never tally up a sum of that kind with any of their figures,; your file goes from hand to hand for months and years, and eventually gets lost”

and this one

“You can see by the mess in the room she was of unsound mind” said Kate “The poor woman”

“Dressmakers are always untidy” said Eva

I have checked out the Leicestershire Library Catalogue Online – loads of copies of MissJB. I quite fancy trying “Aiding and Abetting” next – which is Spark’s fictional take on the disappearance of Lord Lucan.

If you are a Spark aficionado, which of her books would you suggest?


  1. I read 'The Prime of MJB' while I was in sixth form and absolutely loved the book. Thank you for prompting my memories! Jx

  2. Have never read her work, but enjoyed the film immensely. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Now I know why I'm untidy - I can blame it on the sewing.


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!