A Book Blog.

Category: comedy

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith

I am a fan of Mr McCall Smith’s books, especially the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Of his other series’, the44 Scotland Street is one I particularly enjoy. The books are about the residents of the house, who live in flats in the building. But this one is, sadly, the least of them. Matthew from the art gallery gets married to Elspeth Harmony, and has an amusing close brush with death while honeymooning in Australia. Little 6-year-old Bertie gains a victory over his overbearing mother when his father unusually stands up to her to allow his son to join the Cub Scouts. Big Lou’s new beau is a rabid Jacobite and leaves her when his beloved Pretender arrives from Belgium. Various interesting and/or amusing things to happen to the other residents, which are usual for this series.

However: I have the feeling that the series is a little tired. No one seems to have moved on at all, despite this being the fifth book. Matthew could be said to have changed in that he is now married, but he doesn’t seem to feature very much in the general story. Also, the artist Angus Lordie’s dog Cyril fathers six puppies, which are left to Angus to look after. He manages to offload all six onto a strange man he meets in the park one evening. The man lifts each puppy up, weighing them speculatively. Angus thinks that this means that the man is being caring about the puppies’ welfare. At several points in the story, characters mention the rumour that puppies are being stolen and sold to restaurants, but nothing is made of it. By the end of the book, we are not told what has actually happened to them. It is as if, having introduced the idea of Cyril having puppies, Mr McCall Smith is no longer interested in them. And the scones make an appearance towards the end, in a throwaway segment that would seem to exist only to allow the cute title.

The problem is, if there is a problem, that the 44 Scotland Street stories are serialised daily in “The Scotsman”. So each chapter is a brief look at one or two characters. That would be no bad thing, except that Mr McCall Smith seems to be loosing the threads. Instead of tying them neatly off at the end of each book, he leaves some of them dangling, which is very unsatisfactory.  Despite this, I did enjoy reading it, though not as much as I enjoyed the other four.

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

I’m a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s books; though I love his Botswana novels, I must admit to preferring his novels that are set in Edinburgh, especially his Isabel Dalhousie stories. This one is the fourth in the “Sunday Philosophy Club” series. Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a small-press applied ethics journal, who solves mysteries on the side.

Isabel is well-off, single and has a calm personality. I thought that she was at least in her mid 50?s, but in this novel, she is said to be in her early 40?s.  She is now trying to cope with having become the mother of a baby son, whose father is Jamie, her niece’s ex-boyfriend.  Isabel wrestled with her growing attraction to Jamie over the past two novels, after Cat dumped him. Jamie nursed an unrequited crush on Cat and hoped that Isabel would help him to return to Cat’s affections. But, although 15 years her junior, he eventually fell in love with Isabel.

Isabel’s life is changing, as she is sacked from her postition as editor of the applied ethics journal. Then Cat takes up with the man who is to replace Isabel, while holding a grudge against her aunt for “snatching” Jamie away. It’s all a dreadful muddle and Isabel is not fond of messy emotions. At the same time, she is puzzled as to how a supposedly dead artist could be still turning out paintings of the Isle of Jura.

Some feel that the Isabel Dalhousie books lack the charm of the Precious Ramotswe novels. To be sure, there is a lot of Isabel’s philisophical musings to wade through, but I find her throught processes to be fascinating. Isabel is calm and cool-headed and would seem, on the face of it, to lack Precious’ passion. But she is no less intrigued by human behaviour and driven to sort out the muddle that other people seem to make of their lives. I find her to be every bit as charming and am hoping that one day. Mr McCall Smith will send Isabel to Botswana!

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