I spent the first 3/4 of this book thinking how quirky and clever it is and the last 1/4 wishing it were over. However, this probably doesn’t say as much about the book as it does my attention span right now. 😉 (That, and the fact that I had both Catching Fire and Her Mother’s Hope waiting for me!) Make no mistake about it–Alexander McCall Smith is a talented and entertaining author. I’ve read his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and La’s Orchestra Saves the World (both linked to my reviews), and I picked up this title because Beth recommended it. I was interested to read in the preface of this story that McCall Smith wrote this as a serialized story for a newspaper in Scotland, in the tradition of Dickens, etc. This means that none of the chapters are over a couple of pages long (and the book is smallish, so the pages are small), which is good for a quick “bite” here and there.
This story has lots of characters, and each one of them is memorable, and that’s where the book’s strength is. Actually, to call this book a mystery (my library has it marked as such, and that’s the genre McCall Smith is associated with) is a stretch–nothing that I would call even remotely mysterious happens until page 80 or 90, and then, it’s merely a break-in at an art gallery. Oh, there’s also the question of the identity of the creator of a painting at the art gallery at which one of the characters works, but this is not something that would keep me up at night. Instead, what this book is really is a collection of ongoing character sketches. Some of the characters interact with each other; others, rarely if at all. However, they all have one thing in common: they either live in an apartment building at 44 Scotland Street, Edinburgh, or they know someone who does.
The story is more or less told from the point of view of Pat, a young woman who is on her “second gap year” before attending college. (I found the fact that she is embarrassed because she is beginning her second gap year pretty funny, given the popularity of the gap year on the homeschooling message board and blogs I frequent. Before I began looking into home education, I had never heard of a gap year.) Pat moves into 44 Scotland Street into a flat that she shares with a young man named Bruce who is the epitome of the handsome but extremely self-absorbed jock, as well as a another young man and young woman who are on vacation for the entire story. She also begins work at the aforementioned art gallery. We learn a lot about Pat and what makes her tick, and the focus largely is on her inexplicable attraction to Bruce. Although she finds his conceit despicable, she still feels attracted to him. Hmmm.
As I mentioned before, there are several other charcters in the story. I noticed that McCall Smith created several of them to be extremely stuck on themselves, while others show an extreme lack of self-confidence. Hands down my favorite character in the story is Angus Lordie, a portrait painter who writes poetry on the fly and owns a winking dog. (See, I told you this is a quirky story!)
I enjoyed this story, although I still think I like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency better. I just like reading about Africa, I think. Plus, there are actual mysteries in that particular series/story, mild though they are. I’m glad I read 44 Scotland Street, though. I’m beginning to see that McCall Smith writes stories in which not a lot happens, but stories in which the reader really learns a lot about the characters. Again, I was pretty tired of the characteres by the time I got to the end of the story, but on the whole I would call this an enjoyable, light read. If you like books that are heavy on character development and light on plot, you would probably enjoy the works of Alexander McCall Smith.