Alexander McCall Smith: The Wodehouse of the Twenty-first Century

O.K., it’s not quite the same; I realize that. Wodehouse is more wordplay and wit and laugh out loud. But McCall Smith’s books, especially the 44 Scotland Street stories, have the same sort of quirky characters going about their daily business and getting themselves into and out of scrapes that Wodehouse portrayed so well. P.G. Wodehouse and Alexander McCall Smith both have a well-developed sense of human absurdity, but they are gentle with their characters, even when those characters act in ridiculous ways or make very poor decisions.

At any rate, I had such a good, thoughtful, gentle time reading the two latest books in Mr. McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series this week: The Importance of Being Seven and Bertie Plays the Blues. Bertie is a wise and innocent little boy with a very foolish and over-bearing mother. Angus is a middle-aged artist who hopes that a vacation in Italy will help him to recapture the optimism and sense of possibility of his youth. Domenica is an opinionated and somewhat bossy woman who generally knows what she wants but is wise enough to compromise when necessary. Matthew and Elspeth are an ordinary young couple who are about to be presented with an extraordinary parenting challenge. And Antonia, well, Antonia is a “man-eater.” These and other lovely (and not-so-lovely) people are thrown together in and out of 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, “a city with two identities: one respectable, the other quite the opposite.”

“It is a good general rule to allow everybody to go through the dooor before you. People who do this are usually much appreciated for their manners, but may not get very far in life, owing, perhaps, to the number of doors through which they do not ever pass.” The Importance of Being Seven, p. 34.


“Talking to Domenica sometimes required one to think really hard—rather harder than he was accustomed to thinking. She was like sudoku, in a way—not that he should make that comparison openly.” The Importance of Being Seven, p.146.

“Angus, and indeed many others, assumed a particular facial expression when reciting Burns. It was a very curious expression: one of reverence mixed with a look of satisfaction that comes from finding that one can remember the lines. Perhaps it had its equivalent elsewhere, she thought; perhaps there was a universal face that people put on when they quoted their national poets—if they had them. Some nations had no national poet, of course; they had an airline, perhaps, but not a poet.” Bertie Plays the Blues, p. 11.

“And signs telling one to go slowly in the dark or in fog irritated Angus almost as much as the signs that warned people not to approach cliff edges. In his view, it was up to the individual whether or not to approach a cliff edge; it was not the Government’s business.” Bertie Plays the Blues, p.120.

“Irene was typical of the excessively pushy mother, but for all the complications that brought, it was infinitely preferable to the mother who did not love her children at all. Love sometimes needs to be redirected; love sometimes needs to be told that it is swamping or overwhelming its object, but it should never be locked out entirely, never be told to go away.” Bertie Plays the Blues, p.190.

12 thoughts on “Alexander McCall Smith: The Wodehouse of the Twenty-first Century

  1. I love that last quote. I confess, I’ve never read either author. This is the year I’d like to make more of an effort to read outside my comfort zone, and this sounds like a good place to start.

  2. Oh, I love Bertie. I am always recommending the 44 Scotland Street books. I have enjoyed this series more than his other books. His style definitely reminds me of Wodehouse.

    I haven’t read these two books. They are going on my TBR list.

  3. Just added the series to my to-read shelf on goodreads and requested the first two from the library. Thanks!

  4. Comfort reading. I love AMS’s humor. Guaranteed laugh out loud at least three times a book. I was gaga over the first Botswana books, but their allure has waned. I’m a Bertie fan through and through.

    Thanks for the smiles this post brought.

  5. I remember being stunned that AMS was a man after reading the first volume in the #1 Ladies…series. I do love his writing. I love your comparison to Wodehouse. They are both so gifted at writing about eccentrics!

    I agree that both PG and AM are my comfort reading.

    Diane

  6. I just bought the first four Botswana books for $1.00 a book at the library’s used book room. I figured for that price, even if I didn’t care for them I could pass them on to others. Will definitely be looking for the Scotland series (I’ve seen it on the library shelves).

    I read The Robe in high school and it sits close to The Silver Chalice on my bookshelf now. A wonderful book! It’s easy to forget that good Christian literature were big sellers at one time.

  7. Well, you got MY attention with that first sentence! I tried the No. 1 Ladies and didn’t care for THAT series. However, perhaps I would like this one. I’ve avoided the author every since but you have most definitely piqued my interest!

  8. I love this series but I haven’t read these two. Do you have any insight into why they are hard to find? Amazon doesn’t sell hard copies of either of them directly and none of my libraries have them. Thanks for getting me interested — now I just hope I can find them!

  9. Pingback: 12 Favorite Adult and Young Adult Fiction Books Read in 2012 » Semicolon

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