44 Scotland Street and Espresso Tales

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The two books in the title are by Alexander McCall Smith and represent the first two volumes of a serial novel published first within the pages of a daily newspaper in Scotland. As such the chapters are short, there is a propensity for minor "cliff-hangers" at the ends of chapters and there is a general scattteredness to the motion of the novel that comes from a "slice-of-life" approach to a number of characters.

Some of the reviews I have read of the novel on Amazon and other places have critiqued them for being too didactic and preachy. And I suppose some of that comes through. But it comes through naturally as an expression of the concerns and ideas of a teacher. Mr. McCall Smith is a professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh university and is deeply concerned with bioethics and other philosophical matters. While the bioethics does not come through all that prominently, there are any number of chatty chapters about difficult philosophical issues and I suppose that gives some weight to the critique. However, they are short, light, and swiftly done away with in the running tide of the story. I found them admirable in that the novelist is attempting to cultivate a thinking readership in the course of a daily chat about some people he knows in and around Scotland Street.

One of the characteristics of every McCall Smith book I've read is their gentleness and kindness. Bad things do happen in some of the books (although in these, not so many and not so bad). Good people do bad things for reasons they think good. Bertie's mother, attempting to raise an "ungendered" son paints his room pink and has him wear "crushed strawberry" (pink) dungarees to his school She forces him to go to saxophone and Italian lessons and takes him to double yoga classes on Saturday. Bruce can't pass by a mirror without taking a long, loving, glance and admiring deeply what he sees. Matthew has problems keeping his businesses running and is frequently bailed out by Dad who, it seems, has taken a fancy to a woman who may be a golddigger. Domenica, is the resident sage of Scotland Street, commenting on all the events of the day and sharing her insights with what one could consider the central figure of the books--the Character who brings them all together and binds them into a story--Pat. One particularly revealing episode in the second book has Pat attending a Nudist Picnic in late summer/early Fall Scotland.

McCall Smith writes well. There is a suppleness and almost a poetry in his simple, direct, clear writing. There is an obvious affection for even the most odious of characters and he can't seem to quite give them their comeuppance. And in the course of the books, that turns out to be quite all right.

If you need something to take your mind off of present difficulties, or if you're looking for something to fill in the gaps left between the novels of Jan Karon, you may enjoy the works of McCall Smith, and most particularly these two books about the residents of Scotland Street.

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Jan Karon invites you to visit her website at www.mitfordbooks.com. I know you will enjoy the site!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 18, 2008 8:13 AM.

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The Frustration of the Psalms is the next entry in this blog.

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