Moving from the twee

As Bookhounders will know I'm a bit of a fan of Alexander McCall Smith. He's a tonic to read especially if you're feeling sick, or just in need of some bookly comfort. The only problem I find with him is that he can sometimes be unbearably twee, so one novel is plenty before moving on to something by a different author.

He's now written several series including his first success - the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - and, my favourite up to now, the Isobel Dalhousie series set in Edinburgh. However I recently discovered Corduroy Mansions when I read his latest novel in that series A conspiracy of friends. It's great fun, and has a much sharper and surreal edge than any of his other novels. I'm intrigued to discover whether that is just true of this novel, or is a general reflection of the Corduroy Mansions series. Set in a block of flats in Pimlico, London, the novel follows the daily lives of the inhabitants and their extended families and friends.

Present is all the "niceness" that is usually associated with Alexander McCall Smith, but there's also a bit of a biting edge here. The opening tale features the wonderfully named Oedipus Snark, the only nasty Liberal Democrat MP. Some may argue about this (although I suspect that generally the Lib Dems are seen as ineffectual rather than nasty), but he is a gloriously over-the-top character, even his mother has a problem in loving him, and his tale comes to a wonderful conclusion when he is partically accelerated at CERN becoming (possibly) a parallel version of himself. There's a great mix of if not exactly biting satire, certainly a hint of satire, laugh-out-loud comedy, and McCall Smith's usual aura of niceness.

Its sunny disposition - good is rewarded and the wicked get what's coming to them, is certainly not true-to-life, but then McCall Smith's books have never been about how life is, but rather how it should be in the, almost, best of all possible worlds.

The tales are only vaguely interconnected. And it could be re-written quite easily as a book of short stories. This makes it easily readable. Light and amusing, it's the ideal book to read if you're feeling a bit under the weather or struggling with a reading slump. It's also surprisingly sharp for McCall Smith, so just the sort of thing to read if you want something pleasant but not too twee. One for the dog-lovers too, as it features the delightful Freddie de la Hay, the Pimlico mongrel - one of the great dogs of fiction. Great fun, I look forward very much to reading the rest of the Corduroy Mansions series.


Aarti said…
This is an author I've never tried but think that I'd really enjoy if I did. He's on my audiobook list now - I feel like he's MADE for audiobook listening!
Book-hound said…
Yes - I think he'd be great audiobook material. Enjoy :)

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