Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Review: Espresso Tales
Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
Summary: The sequel to 44 Scotland Street, which continues to describe the ups and downs of the residents of that address. There's Pat, a college student who works in an art gallery. She rents a room from vain, pompous, recently fired Bruce, who now fancies himself a wine merchant. Bertie the unhappy, precocious 6 year-0ld and his parents - mild-mannered Stuart who leaves the parenting to his wife Irene (who wants her child to be gifted and gender-unbiased, hence Italian lessons and pink overalls). And Domenica - a widowed anthropologist who has lived in India and travelled the world. The book is made up of stories that the author wrote as a weekly column for the Scotsman newspaper.
Favourite quote: (Explanations: Pat has been invited to a nudist picnic in a posh part of town and is told to disrobe and, since she didn't bring her own, has been given a plastic bag in which to put her clothes. Jenners is a big. old department store, like the Harrod's of Edinburgh.)
"The sight of the plastic bag, stamped with the familiar Jenners sign, was a reassurance to Pat in these unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. There was something about the name Jenners that provided the comfort one needed in dubious situations. An occasion on which you were asked to take off your clothes and put them in a Jenners bag was inherently less threatening than an occasion in which one was asked to put them in any other bag."
I love this! I would never attend a nudist picnic, but I could completely understand Pat's feelings about the reassuring bag from a venerable institution.
Overall: I didn't like this one quite as much as 44 Scotland Street, which I found utterly charming several years ago, but it was still enjoyable. Having been to Edinburgh several times, I really like that McCall Smith knows it, loves it, and describes it and its people so well. I really enjoyed finding out what happened to some of the characters, particuarly the emancipation of Bertie and the comeuppance of Bruce. I really enjoy McCall Smith's writing style and for something written in little snippets, it's amazing how well it comes together and how well most of the characters are drawn.
But there was a whole arc of the memoirs of a lawyer called Ramsey Dunbarton that didn't seem connected to anything else. Part of the fun of the stories is that the characters are connected in some way, but unless I missed it, he wasn't connected to anyone. And his memoirs, which put his wife to sleep, were in danger of doing the same to me. I have a feeling that was the point, but they felt like filler, something that could be printed in the paper if the author didn't have a proper story ready that week. And there were a few of Domenica's ramblings (particularly the one about Cuba and a rather philosophical one near the end) that I could have done without.
But I definitely recommend 44 Scotland Street and, if you enjoy it as much as I did, you'll want to know what happens to the residents of the building.