44 Scotland Street

I've really enjoyed all of Alexander McCall Smith's books with the exception of La's orchestra saves the world, previously reviewed on here, which I found rather weaker than his usual writing.

44 Scotland Street, however, is my favourite McCall Smith read so far. It was a fascinating, humorous read, and one that was unexpectedly revealing. The 44 Scotland Street series was first published in The Scotsman daily newspaper. So 44 Scotland Street follows in a venerable tradition, most notably Dickens and Wilkie Collins, both of whose novels were serialised in weekly papers. Reading this novel made some of the mechanics of Dickens' writing more obvious to me. The Scotland Street chapters are short (necessary in order to fit in with the needs of the newspaper), but each chapter has to have some element of character development, which can't be too subtle as it's got to obviously move on from the events of the day before. In a similar fashion to soap operas, there are a small number of characters that the plot revolves around, with others (some of them real people - such as Ian Rankin) drifting in and out. The plot has an over-arching structure, but there is also room to move into asides or set-pieces - this made a lot of sense of the way, for example, Dickens moves from the main plot of Pickwick Papers to set short stories.

44 Scotland Street is charming, funny, very sweet. It's similar in many ways to the Sunday Philosophy Club series, but I think it's a lot better. The constraints of the serialisation have actually really helped McCall Smith's writing. It stays to the point, surprises and shocks are sprung adroitly, and there are some great Dickensian characters in this novel ranging from the infant saxophone prodigy Bertie, and his truly dreadful mother, the incredibly vain Bruce, and the wonderfully over the top Angus Lordie, and his winking dog. It's very funny - a lot funnier than McCall Smith's usual writing - although he always has a very light touch. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.


acleansurface said…
I enjoys Smith's books also. I am currently reading a new book called remarkable Creatures (by the same author of Girl With Pearl Earring). It is a period novel about young women searching for fossils, considered a very inappropriate activity. Highly recommend.
Book-hound said…
Thanks for the comment - I'll look out for Remarkable Creatures. I'd heard something similar before about fossil-hunting being inappropriate for young women (French Lieutenant's Woman or This thing of darkness, I think) - didn't the Victorians have some weird ideas??

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