44 Scotland Street

Is it not so very sad when you have bought a book, thinking that you can trust the reviews, and then end up disappointed and wonder what on earth they meant with their praise? I think that Alexander McCall Smith is living on past glories! He became famous with the 1st Ladies’ Detective Agency and because of it, people think that everything else that he writes will be equally good. And then they don’t dare to say that they are disappointed. I never read the above series but watched it on TV and thought it cute. T. has read almost the entire series but it wasn’t really my thing. Sorry, but Africa has never really interested me unless one counts Egypt and WWII sites. I do enjoy reading about colonial times, about the British and stories like Karen Blixen’s life there. So to say, no interest, is perhaps wrong.

I did give his series about the Sunday Philosophy Club a chance though since I do like Scotland. The writing was uneven. He gets tedious after a couple of books and you do realise that he writes for the money and for a deadline. Original ideas are no longer so original after two-three books! And both he and I get bored of the characters that never develop or progress!

Now towards the end of summer, I finally picked up “44 Scotland Street” since it was promised to be hilarious and with my health problems, I felt I needed something hilarious. It was a gift for T. years ago but he only bothered with two chapters. Here is my reviews on Shelfari for the first three books in the series:

I gave this book to someone years ago and that person gave up on it after two chapters and the chapters are very short since this book was a daily serial in “the Scotsman”. This latter fact was the reason why it got me interested in it as a matter of fact, this and the fact that someone mentioned that it was supposed to be funny.

It was an all right book. I finished it quickly. It helps that the 110 chapters are so short. Funny? Hmmm! Well, my daughter and I laughed at Bruce,one of the characters, when he went to a ball wearing a kilt having forgot to put his underwear on. At a pre-party he knicks his boss’ underwear but is discovered in the laundry room which is embarrassing for him. And at the strange ball that has only six guests, he forgets to put the underwear on and tries to return them to his boss by smuggling them in to his coat pocket. The boss catches him behaving strange again. This is really the only funny episode in the book.

I have read many of McCall Smith’s “Sunday Philosophy Club” books and loved them for their coziness and likeable characters. This book is cozy in a way but lacks the charm of that other series. It’s called 44 Scotland Street but I don’t know why since I find it a misleading name. 6 people that figure in the book live on this address. But 6 people equally important for the story do no,t so why call it that? And to go one step further. In the following book, three of the residents move away but are still followed so… It might as well have been called Edinburgh lives or something.

The author says that all the characters exist in Edinburgh. I hope not because then that place must be an awful place to live in. None of the characters are likeable at all, except for perhaps 5-year-old Bertie that is one of the residents at Scotland Street. He is a genius but his mother is a mother from hell. She has read Freudian books till her mind is completely brainwashed and her son is Project Bertie, he is forced to learn Italian, play the saxophone, wear pink dungarees, have a pink bedroom that is called “his space” by her, go to psychotherapy after being expelled from pre-school when he wrote that his teacher is a cow, in italian, and to yoga classes. He is very unhappy and you sit through every book wondering where social services are when you need them? He gets 5 minutes with the therapist and then his mother flirts with the same for 50 minutes. The father, Stuart, has been told not to interfere and is a grey existence in their flat. The main character must be Pat who moves in with Bruce, when on her second gap year. Not a bright girl at all, she falls for the narcissist Bruce and becomes an insult to all women, because no girl in her right mind falls for a man that studies his own image in every window he passes, and every mirror, and takes off his shirt just for women to admire him. Pat is just a wet noodle and Bruce is disgusting. Their neighbour Domenica, an anthropologist that has opinions about everything, tries to teach Pat about the world, but some of her thoughts made me go to sleep.

The outside characters needed to write 110 chapters for a newspaper in 110 days are Bruce’s boss and this man’s wife and daughter. Disgusting characters. Pathetic “friends” of theirs that come to the ball and get a bigger part in book two. Angus Lordie and his dog that are friends of Domenica’s and who I guess are supposed to draw in the intellectual audience but I caught myself skimming the chapters that had Lordie and dog in them, since they were extremely boring. Dr. Fairbairn that treats Bertie without seeing that Bertie’s mother is dangerous for her son, that Bertie just wants to be a normal little boy and do boy things. Finally looser Matthew, who owns a gallery his dad has bought for him, even though Matthew fails at every business adventure. He spends all his time at Big Lou’s coffee shop across from his gallery while Pat works. Big Lou bought an old book shop and turned it in to a coffee shop and now reads through all the books that went with the shop. So she discusses a lot of Proust and philosophy with her guests. Nothing really happens in the book. I think it must have been more entertaining reading this in the newspaper when one had a choice of reading horror stories from Afghanistan and Iraq and reading a cozy reoccurring story from one’s own home town. I gave this three stars!

One book would have been enough instead of starting a series. This book was all right but I thought that certain parts were tedious. Pat, the student on her second gap year, continues to show poor judgement in men. Deciding to go out with a waiter whose only credit is a good-looking face turns out to be the big mistake, that the reader anticipates, when the date is at a nudist party. Everyone clad in garbage bags because the rain is pouring down. Pathetic! Bruce, the owner of the flat that Pat lives in, has got fired from his job when his boss saw Bruce holding hands with the boss’ wife. Bruce is happy though since he feels that being a wine merchant would be more exciting. He gets, what he thinks, a looser friend from his past, to finance his business. Only, he never gets to see any money, because the “looser” takes advice from his even more “looser” solicitor fiancée and pulls out in time. Bruce still gets away with things since he manages to sell some wine at an auction, to a GREAT price. He does get thrown over by his American sweetheart but he soon finds someone else in London so he disappears from the book series. Thank heavens for that. Matthew, the boss of Pat’s, who owns a gallery, receives a new stepmother against his will, but in so doing, also receives 4 million pounds from his dad. So he can’t really complain. Genius Bertie, 6-years old, starts school but of course his mother continues to push him and embarrass him and the psychotherapist still is blind to the problem. Stuart, the father, finally decides to start being a part of his son’s life and they take the train to Glasgow to find their missing car. They receive a stolen, almost identical car, from Glasgow’s Al Capone and I’m sorry but if this isn’t bad and too much, then Ramsey Dunbarton’s memoirs are. One must not forget that McCall Smith wrote every chapter under time pressure, to be published on a daily basis in a newspaper. He had to fill his slot every day and to do so, he followed up ridiculous story lines! Ramsey Dunbarton was a guest at a political ball, in the first book. He was boring there. Does not live at 44 Scotland Street. When he reads his memoirs to his wife, she falls asleep. And I as a reader had a difficult time keeping my eyes open as well.  Why did I bother with this book? I have just changed my rating from three to two stars because it really doesn’t deserve 3 stars!

Enough is enough. This book was SO boring I thought I would never get through it. The only way I managed to finish it was by first reading all chapters on Pat, the bimbo student, that in this book has gone back to University and moved away from 44 Scotland street. Then start reading the chapters about her boss, Matthew the gallery owner, since their stories finally merge. When that was done, I went on to reading the chapters on genius child Bertie, 6 years old and finally those on Domenica, that anthropologist that went to Asia in hunt of pirates. I don’t know which story line was the most ridiculous? Pat’s? She fell in love with a fellow student named Wolf, because of his looks. Only it was just a game for him since he already had a long time girlfriend that happened to be Pat’s new flat mate. So then Pat moved in with Matthew and fell in love with him after seeing him naked in the shower. I mean, grow up! Bertie’s story line? His mother had him join a teenage symphony orchestra that was going to Paris and he was sent there and forgot there, yet he got in to no trouble at all but put a philosophy professor down at Sorbonne. I know, it’s beyond ridiculous. His father and Matthew got Glasgow’s Al Capone to frighten off Big Lou’s fiancée, Big Lou being the coffee shop owner across the street from Matthew’s gallery. I don’t know if I should cry! And Domenica’s? Pirates in Asia turned out to copy off CDs, nothing else. Had I been a “Scotsman” reader, I would have skipped McCall Smith’s daily chapters of this book, and read the latest on Afghanistan! The book is beyond boring! No more 44 Scotland Street for me but to my horror I have noticed that the author is trying to squeeze as much as he can out of this idea, and has drowned the world with something like 7 books about these most disagreeable, pathetic characters. I have given this book one star!


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