The Good Morning Post: Ponderings on Alexander McCall-Smith

For several years I’ve kept hearing praises of Alexander McCall-Smith. However, due to a somewhat unsatisfactory paper I once heard at a conference, I had never picked up any of his books (if truth is to be told, I suspect I’m somewhat fussy about people; after all, it’s a bit irational to take a dislike to a person one has barely met — and then to transfer this dislike to an author the person in question has talked about). But, as I said, I kept hearing praises about his books, so a few weeks ago when Fictionwise sold all books at half price, one of the novels I bought was THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB. What endeared this book to me was A) the fact that it’s set in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, and B) the intriguing beginning.

So after the book-disaster I mentioned yesterday (did not finish book; actually, it was anthology, but really, I feel no inclination whatsoever to see whether the other two stories are better than that horrible, horrible first one), I started reading the second book in McCall-Smith’s series, FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE — and I’m happy to say nobody had any kind of sex (bunny or otherwise) on pages 1, 2, or 3 (yay), instead we followed a man walking down a street in Edinburgh. And I discovered that it’s an absolute thrill to read about settings that you are familiar with in real life:

The man in the brown Harris tweed overcoat — double-breasted with three small leather-covered buttons on the cuffs — made his way slowly along the street that led down the spine of Edinburgh. He was aware of the seagulls which had drifted in from the shore […]

Of course, he’s walking on the Mile, that long, long street which stretches all the way from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. When I read this sentence, I immediately remembered walking up and down that street myself, past St. Giles, with its curiously shaped tower, past that kiltmaker’s shop, and — oh — that lovely, lovely bookstore that sold old children’s books.

And then, a page or so along (it’s difficult to tell when you’re reading an e-book), McCall-Smith even mentions the World’s End:

The man reached the St. Mary’s Street crossroads. On the corner to his right was a pub, the World’s End, a place of resort for fiddlers and singers […]

If you’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, you know, of course, that the World’s End is mentioned in THE VOYAGER. So when I first visited Edinburgh, this was a place of pilgrimage for me, in a manner of speaking. I still think very fondly of the World’s End — such a curious name, isn’t it? — and of its colourful, gay pub sign. Of course, I used it in HIGHLAND LOVE, that unpublished contemporary of mine, set for the most part in a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland. So yes, it was a very nice surprise indeed, to pass along that pub in McCall-Smith’s novel.

That said, FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE is supposed to be a mystery novel (at least it’s sold as such), but by now I’ve reached chapter nine — and nothing mysterious has happened so far. Instead, the story is moving along in a rather aimless fashion, or so it seems to be. I couldn’t even tell you what the central conflict is. Or what the book is really about. *scratching my head* At this point I’m actually growing impatient with the story. Hmmph.

It seems I’m not very good at picking my books these days …

2 thoughts on “The Good Morning Post: Ponderings on Alexander McCall-Smith

  1. Marg

    I don’t think that McCall Smith’s strength is the mysteries. in a lot of his books they are barely there. But he is good at evoking place – whether it be Edinburgh or Botswana!

    I didn’t particularly like the first book but there was a huge twist at the end of the second and beginning of the third books which bought me back to this series.

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