Monday, 12 January 2009

The essence (?) of Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith has been the flavour of my holiday reading, having read five since being back in Australia. My favourite has been La's Orchestra Saves the World, and I might blog about that another time.

I have just, today, finished the The World According to Bertie, the latest in the 44 Scotland Street Series. In it, I found a couple of quotes which I really think sum up Alexander McCall Smith's books. Even the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the most out of the ordinary of all, is not outside the scope of these sentiments.
In the interstices of the big things of this world, he thought, were the hidden, small things; the small moments of happiness and fulfillment. p33
"There's not enough kindness in the world," said Angus. [...] Angus wanted to paint something which spoke to that distinct human quality of kindness that, when experienced, was so moving, so reassuring, like balm on a wound, like a gentle hand, helping, tender. That was what he wanted to paint, because he knew that that was what we all wanted to see." p308
I think this is what Alexander McCall Smith wants us to see; the small moments of happiness and fulfillment in ordinary lives. He wants to remind us of this distinct human quality and urge us simply to be kind, to see how much happiness and fulfillment can be wrought by being so.

He is typically so gentle and understanding with his protagonists, that I feel I am acquainted them intimately, sympathetic with their every doubt and forgiving of their every weakness. I come away feeling that I now understand much better what makes people tick, and feeling that he himself (McCall Smith) must be a very kind man indeed!

Mind you, dealing with the ordinary has its limitations, and particuarly the 44 Scotland Street series can be a little frustrating and anti-climactic; nothing much actually happens. I find I am spell-bound as I read (although I must admit I skip some of the chapters about certain characters), but dissappointed with the endings.

I'm glad that the ending to which I look forward is more glorious than this, and while I enjoy the small moments of happiness and fulfillment, they are not the goal to which I work nor the treasue I delight in.

I'll also blog a little about the issues that come up in his books over the next month or so.

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