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Green Jay

Alexander McCall Smith

There was a 15-min programme on Radio 4 today at 9.30 when A M-S was interviewed. He talked about Isabel Dalhousie amongst other things, and how he used her books to ponder about moral topics which he did not necessarily have an audience for elsewhere. I dont know if this mini-programme would be on i-player.

I did not realise that, apart from his life as an author of whimsical novels, he was so high in the world of law and ethics. Explains a lot. Also explains to me why, as we've discussed before, everyone in the Edinburgh novels floats along on a soft cloud of privilege and that this can get ever-so-slightly irritating at times; I've concluded perhaps that's  just the world he and everyone else he mixes with moves in.

I've spent a hundred pages today being alternately diverted and irritated by it, mainly the latter. I do love McCall Smith, though.

I think part of the charm of the books, for me, is that AMS's life itself seems so genteel and charmed and enviable, and the books are somehow an extension of that.  I seem able to forgive him things that in others would probably put me off reading any more - things that continue to irritate me, but he is still irresistible!  His contributions on Twitter are just fabulous - not like anyone else's - I just want his life!

Now hauld on a wee whiley - there is nothing stuffy, spinsterish about Isobel Dalhousie ( see comment on Alexander McCall Smith's latest novel in the 'Sunday Philosophy club' series) - she has managed to 'hook' a young man, Jamie, who is the admiration of a great many younger women and they have a youngster called Charlie' ; it is true that their intimate life is described with a delicacy which is in sharp ( and, in my view, welcome,) contrast to the gritty and often unpleasant detail so often used in that area of life by authors. It is also true that she has a finely attuned sense of what is right and wrong, honed by her philosophical preoccupations and this can paralyse her actions sometimes ( and exasperate the reader!), but she can 'get things' done' and heal situations too. This same delicacy is also evident in the author's treatment of Eddy, the cafe helper, which might explain why his is only now coming out into the open about his life.
But this is only me talking

Hello David!  No, I need more convincing...  I don't mind her relationship with Jamie too much, but the whole Charlie thing is cloying.  And she still seems to me far too old for early 40s - something that comes up in the Scotland Street books too, where I had always imagined Domenica and Angus to be in their 60s at least, only to discover, when they get married, that they too are in their 40s.  I don't think AMcS really understands people in their 40s!

I will still read every Dalhousie book that comes out, though. Scotland Street remains my favourite series, and I like Corduroy Mansions too.

He also writes the most wonderful stories on Twitter, about a Swedish detective called Ulf Varg (I think he started out as Varg Ulf...or is it the other way around..?)  He writes about 5 or 6 tweets, and they are just brilliantly understated little gems.  He is far and away my favourite Tweeter, though he is a bit less prolific there than he used to be.

...and AMS has recommended one of my blog posts on Twitter, and that makes him OK in my books ... So there!

and therefore a member of the Twitterati Laughing

I am @HairyGit on twitter, should anyone want to follow me. But I never tweet anything of interest.

Oh, hurrah! I'm on Twitter too, Himadri. Off to 'follow you' (and probably AMS too) straight away!

(I love the Scotland Street book of AMS, also the 'Ladies Detective Agency' series, although I've not read them all.)

I haven't either, Klara, but I am pleased to see someone else championing them.  I never understand the criticisms of the Botswana stories - ASM had lived a long time in Africa and I don't find them at all Anglo- or Hibernia-centric.  I get a (no doubt romanticed) picture of Botswana which is very sympathetic but which immediately brings the sights and smells and dust and communities and problems of the country to my mind.

I also love the Corduroy Mansion stories, but haven't read so much of the others, and am not all that fond of the Sunday Philosophy ones (Isabel is a bit irritating), though I think the Scotland Street ones would appeal if I had read more of them.

I also had a lovely response to a letter I wrote - not specifically from Alexander McCall Smith - but from his secretary writing nicely of "Sandy" and of my comments.  

Cheers, Caro.

Caro wrote:
Isabel is a bit irritating

I read 'Isabel' as 'Israel'. Very inflammatory today, Caro, I thought.

I had a phone call from my son recently and the phone cut out just as he "Don't read Alexander..." So I wrote and wondered if he was about to say Dumas and he said,

"We read Alexander McCall Smith's (author of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) Sunday Philosophy Club and were highly disappointed. We both enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies Detective series (book and TV series) so had high expectations, but it just had no redeeming features (Sarah reminds me it was well-written, but I think that only served to lull us into thinking it might be good). Boring, pointless characters we couldn't like (judgemental main one), and nothing happened. Probably a mistake to expect a murder mystery. And there was no philosophy club at all! First of a series - something may happen in the future books.

Not one to read aloud at any rate, but of course the irony is you'll have to read it to see that you shouldn't have read it.

P.S, if it's anything like the film, don't read Dumas' Count of Monty Cristo either.

I have no idea what the film of The Count of Monte Cristo is like. The only filmned version I have seen is the old one with Robert Donat, and that was pretty enjoyable. The book was wonderful.

I have only read one of Alexander McCall Smith's books - 44 Scotland Street - and I thought it was delighful. It was not so much the plot or the characters. butthe warmth and generus good humour of the authorial voice, that I found particularly endearing. I can't answer for his other books, of course.

My husband, who is inclined to do things to surprise me, or at least without asking, seems to have booked tickets for us to listen to Alexander McCall Smith talking in Dunedin on May 10th.  For some odd reason it is at St Paul's Cathedral (where just last weekend we stood outside for over an hour in the rather cool weather waiting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to exit and walkabout - not that I saw much of the walking; from where I stood I could see the feathery bit in her hat!  My husband did get a decent photo and standing on a seat I did see them a little bit.)

I think AMS seems to be the most delightful warm person both in his novels and in his personality generally. It will be just a week before we leave for another trip to Britain, so should set the scene nicely. Better get a couple of his books out the library and refresh my memory.

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