Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review: 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

I'd heard lots about Alexander McCall Smith from other book bloggers, but never about the Scotland Street series. While at the library with my fiance' a few weeks ago, I found the newest book in the series on the "Recent Acquisitions" shelves. So I thought I'd check out the first of the series and see if I liked it.

And, you know what? It was just okay.

The story follows the residents of an apartment building at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh. The main character, Pat, is on her second gap year (which, not being familiar with British/Scottish slang, I assume is a break in one's schooling). She has recently moved back to Edinburgh from a mysteriously disastrous FIRST gap year in Australia. We never find out what happened during that year, but perhaps Smith covers it in a future book.

Pat moves into a flat at 44 Scotland Street with Bruce, a narcissistic rugby enthusiast upon whom Pat develops a hopeless crush, and takes a job at a gallery with Matthew, who is supported through his many failed enterprises by his wealthy father, and who develops a hopeless crush on Pat. Gradually, Pat meets the other assorted residents of 44 Scotland Street: Irene, an extremely controlling woman, her henpecked husband, Stuart, and her five-year-old prodigy Bertie and nosy neighbor and good friend, Domenica. The story also follows Matthew; Bruce's employer, Raeburn Todd, and his family; and Domenica's poetic friend Angus Lordie. Ian Rankin even makes a cameo appearance in the novel.

I didn't love this novel. At first, there seemed to be too many characters, and the storyline followed all of them briefly. This tended to be confusing, especially with regard to the peripheral characters, such as Bruce's boss' family. I can only assume they grow more important to the overarching story as the series progresses, because I cannot fathom why they ended up in this book.

Add to the plethora of characters the fact that I have never been to Scotland. I failed to understand a lot of the inside jokes, as well as the geographical, literary, and artistic references. I wish I could have appreciated those more, and if I had liked the novel better, I might have been tempted to do some research. But I didn't and I wasn't.

There was a slight mystery, dealing with a painting at the gallery where Pat worked, but it was far TOO slight for my taste, as the storyline mostly followed the lives of the various characters. I would have liked either no mystery at all, or a more intense one, with more of the novel centered around it.

Overall, I didn't hate the book. It was nice to while away the time, and, since it was published as a series of short vignettes in The Scotsman newspaper, it was easy to pick up and put down as I felt like it. Ultimately, though, it was just not my cup of tea.

No comments: