31 July 2009

44 Scotland Street (Alexander McCall Smith)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa.

I loved the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I loved it to distraction. I loved it so much I bought several copies of each book and widely distributed them. I’m a one-woman Ladies Detective Agency road show. And when McCall Smith began to branch out, into philosophy clubs and bohemian buildings, I rubbed my little hands in unmitigated glee.

But, ‘twas not to be.

Don’t get me wrong: 44 Scotland Street, the second in its series, is a sweet little book. I took it with me on a weekend trip to Cape Town and read it in the bath. But I guess the familiarity and charm and goodness inherent in the divine books set in Africa, and their plump, pleasant and deeply shrewd protagonist, are missing entirely from number 44.

For a start, its characters/inhabitants are astoundingly irritating.

Pat is a pain. She knows she’s a bit of a delinquent (she admits as much in Chapter 1), but despite this obviation, I can’t get past how badly I want to slap her.

Bruce, too, is unbearable – representing every smarmy, smug, self-adoring, gel-addicted, pretty-but-not-very-bright boykie I’ve ever met and disliked on sight.

The rest aren’t too bad. I particularly like the gifted five-year-old Bertie. A prodigy. A genius. A precocious but delightful little monster. And a source of complete confuddlement to his pretentious (altogether slap-worthy) mother, the glossy Irene.

Having read this book some time ago (the intervening few weeks have been enough to wrench the blissful Cape Town weekend from my memory), I can’t quite recall the plot – which doesn’t bode well. I know there was an art gallery, a lovely nerd, a misappropriation of something precious and expensive, and some other interesting events, but can’t remember much else.

All I can say is, if you’re an avid fan of observing human nature and the weird things it makes strange people do, this is a nice light book to carry around with you til you’re done. It’s also exceptionally well-written (what d’you expect?), but for me, that didn’t save it. Sorry.


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