Monday, March 21, 2016

Book Review: 44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street
Alexander McCall Smith

If you’ve been a bit at a loss ever since you finished Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City all those years ago, and can’t forget Mma Precious Ramotswe of McCall Smith’s The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, you are in luck. When Alexander McCall Smith, at a party in Edinburgh, told the editor of The Scotsman that he admired the way Maupin’s Tales first appeared a chapter at a time in the San Francisco paper, the editor offered his paper to McCall Smith. Nearly one thousand chapters and ten books later the characters of the 44 Scotland Street series are still going to Big Lou’s coffee bar in New Town in Edinburgh, and six year old Bertie is still playing the blues on his tenor sax.

Indeed, the many recurring characters are nearly all still there. Not a lot actually happens in 44 Scotland Street, which is, in fact, a real street of beautiful gray stone Georgian townhouses, divided up into flats, where real Edinburghers live. At number 44 a high-minded anthropologist Domenica MacDonald reigns and entertains her friend Angus Lordie, a portrait painter and poet with a gold-toothed dog named Cyril, who joins Angus at The Cumberland Bar (a real bar) and laps up his mug of beer under the table. Little Bertie Pollock downstairs is oppressed by his well-meaning, Melanie Klein-obsessed mother, Irene, who fills up his days with Italian lessons, saxophone lessons, psychotherapy, and yoga. To Bertie’s intense embarrassment she insists that Bertie wear pink overalls to counteract gender stereotyping. Across the hall from Domenica lives Bruce Anderson, a young man so good looking that he can’t pass a mirror without pausing and smiling at himself. And so on. We become involved in these characters' lives the way we do with our own friends and the gossip of their everyday doings. We become virtual long-time residents of lovely New Town and every new chapter is another bit of every day local gossip.

The 44 Scotland Street series is an easy, relaxing read. If you miss something, a whole chapter, or book, for that matter, no biggie. You can pick the story back up again and keep on reading without feeling you’ve missed an important plot point. The wonderful characters will still be there, more or less the same, much like our friends in real life, who mostly stay the same, and who we care for much the same, chapter after chapter, year after year. The real bonus from reading the 44 Scotland Street series is from coming to know the place, bonnie New Town, and the Scots.


44 Scotland Street series
  1. 44 Scotland Street
  2. Espresso Tales
  3. Love Over Scotland
  4. The World According to Bertie
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
  6. The Importance of Being Seven
  7. Bertie Plays the Blues
  8. Sunshine on Scotland Street
  9. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers
David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

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