Monday, June 29, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones

The Fifth of the 44 Scotland Street novels by Alexander McCall Smith, this volume does not disappoint. It is as comfortable and reassuring as I have come to expect of AMC's Edinburgh books. One of my quibbles with AMC has been that he has a tendency to show off his prodigious knowledge and obviously considerable intellect in some of his novels with no apparent reason other than to show that he has that knowledge. In other words there appears sometimes to be no benefit to the novel of the inclusion of the information. I think that that has been remedied in this volume. Either that or I've just got used to it!

Most of the characters will be familiar to readers of previous novels in the series but we do learn more about the Jacobite Pretender - a rather fanciful and unnecessary incursion in my view but then Big Lou has to have some disaster in her relationships. Come to think of it that seems to be all she has in her relationships.

Bruce is back too. Can he possibly be a reformed character?

One thing that AMS's characters have on the whole is goodness. Even the villain, Lard O'Connor, is a likable gangster. ' A gangster?' I hear you ask. Yes. Really. A very useful one too.

It is that essence of goodness which brings out the serious side of AMS. He is somewhat of a believer in the role of goodness in life. I was going to say 'moralist' but I'm not sure that he is quite that.

The best way to form an opinion is to read the books. You don't just have to have a knowledge and love of Edinburgh to love these books. I have to ration myself. I have a great temptation to go and buy all the remaining ones and devour them one after the other.

If you can feel miserable after reading one of these books then I will be completely overcome with surprise. I was going to throw down a challenge but it all got too complicated.

She [Agatha Christie] said that an archaeological husband was an ideal husband as the older the wife became the more interested he would be in her.

Angus smiled. the moral energy, the disapproval, that had fuelled Scotland's earlier bouts of over-enthusiastic religious intolerance were still with us, as they were with any society. It wore a different cloth, he thought, and was present now in the desire to prevent people from doing anything risky or thinking unapproved thoughts.

And a coffee cup, as we all know, is not something that it pays to look into if one is searching for meaning; coffee, in all its forms looks murky, and gives little comfort to one who hopes to see something in it. Unlike tea, which allows one to glimpse something of what lies beneath the surface, usually more tea.

And here he [Mathew] was in the sharks' element utterly at their mercy - although mercy was not a concept one associated with sharks.

They prevent people from being who they are; they forbid them to express themselves in the name of preventing offence. Cyril's offensive to cats, but is he to stop being a dog?

I might as well have written those words on water.

Moisturiser and a good cry: two things for modern man to think about.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

This is the eighth volume in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. As I said in my posting on The World According to Bertie McCall Smith is the spag bol of reading for me. I find it impossible not to be comfortable when reading his three main series. There are, of course, continuing gripes. I'm not sure whether it is a charm or a major irritation (or both) that there is so much repetition: of things past, of Mme Ramotswe's love of her father, red bush tea, Mr J L B Matekoni etc etc. The list of repetitions is endless and if they were not there then the series could, I'm sure, be reduced by two volumes. But would I have it so? No.

The plot (if such one could call it) in this volume, as in the others, is largely irrelevant. These books are not read for the plot but for the simple pleasure of reading a simple story well written.

Heaven forbid that McCall Smith should ever fall into the trap that Lillian Beckwith did with the sequels to The Hills is Lonely and end up with larger and larger print and smaller and smaller books. Come to think of it I think he's probably started where L B left off anyway. But do I care? No.


The previously unloved may find it hard to believe that they are now loved; that is such a miracle, they feel; such a miracle.

'There are many men for whom there does not appear to be any reason,' ....... '....even when he is standing there, doing nothing, I don't think that.'

She wanted something, she felt, but she was unsure what it was. Love? Friendship? There was a loneliness about her, as there was about some people who just did not seem to belong, who fitted in - to an extent - but who never seemed quite at home.

....but nothing ever approached the level of incompetence that these young men so effortlessly achieved.

So the small things come into their own: small acts of helping others, if one could; small ways of making one's own life better: acts of love, acts of tea, acts of laughter. clever people might laugh at such simplicity, but, she asked herself, what was their own solution?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Will There Be Good News?

Some years ago I read Kate Atkinson's first novel: Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I recall that I found it slightly strange and rather unrewarding. Notwithstanding that I have maintained an interest in her subsequent books and on my way back from New Zealand in April I read her When Will There Be Good News? I was not disappointed. If I'm honest although it is only 6 weeks since I read it it seems a very long time ago and I have only the good impressions rather than the detail in my mind.

It is a detective story without being a whodunnit. It's a story about individuals with whom you can identify or empathise; whom you can like or dislike; who have a realness about them that I certainly didn't remember from Behind the Scenes.

It is serious. It is funny. The story carries through the twists and turns of time and circumstance with clarity. It is (in my humble opinion) exceptionally well written. I enjoyed it very much and I will return to read the rest of her books. I hope you will too.
Reggie would have liked to say, 'And you're too old to wear it [make-up],' but unlike, apparently, everyone else in the world she kept her opinions to herself.
When they went shopping for an engagement ring in Alistair Tait's in Rose Street [Edinburgh].... [Been there, done that. There's a comfort in books set in familiar places].

Lying in bed Louise could see the rings glinting in the dark, even when the safe was shut. Band of gold. Band around the heart. Heart of darkness. Darkness evermore.

A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.