McCall Smith, Alexander
In the eighth installment of McCall Smith’s popular 44 Scotland Street series, life continues its meandering course spiced with little episodes of excitement for our favorite residents of Edinburgh. As before, the author opens up windows into the lives of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, giving us a “fly-on-the-wall” (as Bo, the Danish film-maker would describe it) view that highlights the utter wonder to be found in everyday life. From the anxiety-fraught preparations for Angus and Domenica’s wedding (on the part of Angus and Matthew, at least) to the escapades of Angus’ dog Cyril and the life-changing meeting of Bruce and his doppelgänger, the book moves back and forth seamlessly between these intertwined existences to give a broad picture of what it means to be human. Perhaps the most poignant and touching episodes, as usual, are those that focus on the still-six-year-old Bertie and his clashes with his domineering, “progressive” mother Irene.
For the first time since I began reading McCall Smith’s books, I am forced to say that I was disappointed. Though this book does have its bits of charm and wisdom, I found it to be a bit tedious to get through. That has never been the case before! I almost always put down the author’s books with a yearning for more, but this time it was almost a relief to finally close the book. There is something intangible that is lacking in the story. In some ways, it seems forced, as if the author had a deadline to publish a book in the series but didn’t really have the passionate drive to do so. I know that we all have off days (and for such a prolific author, McCall Smith is certainly entitled to more than his share), so I would never give up on the series because of one less-than-stellar read. I do, hope, however, that his next book will prove to be as delightful or more so than those that have gone before. All in all, a mediocre read worth about 3 or 4 stars (I give it four because there definitely are bits of the book that make it worth the somewhat more challenging read.)
Though it wasn’t the best quote in the book (those are to be found at the end and I don’t want to ruin them for anyone who chooses to read the book), one of my favorites was the following, as I read it right after a conversation with my sister regarding how old we feel inside – our “mental ages.” “Eighteen or nineteen is the age at which most of us are permanently stuck – at least in our own eyes. And why the world should not see us thus is a mystery.”