Read Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith Free Online
Book Title: Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers|
The author of the book: Alexander McCall Smith
Date of issue: August 2nd 2013
ISBN 13: 9781846972539
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 538 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.1
Read full description of the books:
As a comic novelist myself, I really ought to hate Alexander McCall Smith. Not because of his extraordinary success, though that's undeniably enviable; nor even because of his ability to churn out fine novels with a regularity that would shame a sausage machine; but because of the sheer facility with which he seems to write, the natural and engaging style of his literary voice, and the educated, subtle humour that runs through his work like DNA.
His 44 Scotland Street novels (there are nine so far, not 44, though I look forward to the next 35) are not dissimilar to soap in hardback, with familiar and mostly endearing characters who come and go and flit between volumes, vanishing then reappearing like old friends do in our own lives.
When you finish one book, the joy and satisfaction you feel is tinged with frustration that the next book is going to be a year away - a feeling not unlike that of watching the conclusion of a series of Downton Abbey then realising there'll be a long wait for the next one.
It's Alexander's own fault, of course, though one can hardly accuse him of laziness. If he only manages one 44 Scotland Street novel a year, it's because he's simultaneously writing a novel a year for each of his other franchises - Corduroy Mansions, The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and The Sunday Philosophy Club series amongst them.
For me, those are pleasures still to come. If they are even half as well-written as the 44 Scotland Street novels, they deserve a place on anyone's bookshelves.
Some might dismiss the 44 Scotland Street novels as easy reading, in the same way that they disparage music that millions of people over several generations have enjoyed as easy listening.
But they would be missing the point: to make a well-constructed, compelling and beautifully crafted novel that easy to read requires more literary skill than writing one that is inaccessible, unengaging, and only likely to appeal to a handful of people who happen to have swallowed the same thesaurus.
For Alexander's prose is truly beautiful. Every word is worth its ink, and although his phrases seem to slip from his pen like mercury through a schoolboy's fingers, I suspect that a lot of unseen head-scratching lies behind the polished results he presents to us. At least I hope so, otherwise he'd be even more annnoying.
It's a fair bet that Alexander loves writing his novels every bit as much as we enjoy reading them, and that unlike Dr Frankenstein whose creation came back to bite him, the author would find his characters rather congenial company should he somehow find himself living among them in real life.
Though I suspect that, like the rest of us, he'd be reaching for the phone to ring the NSPCC if he ever found himself living next door to one of his creations, Irene Pollock.
She is the mother from Hell - an utter nightmare of a parent whose terrible treatment of her beleagured little boy, Bertie, is in no way mitigated by the fact that she is motivated throughout by good intentions.
Think of every absurdity in the political correctness armoury, every crackpot childcare theory, every misguided gender-neutrality regime and its doomed but determined attempts to deny that boys will be boys, and you'll begin to have an inkling of what poor Bertie has to put up with.
Don't be at all surprised if you hear Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed talking to some sociologist who's advocating that Irene's treatment of the fictional Bertie should be the subject of a Serious Case Review.
In this, the ninth in the series, Bertie finally turns seven and finds that instead of the Swiss Army penknife he craves, he's been given a Junior UN Peacekeeping Kit and, worse, a "play figure" that everyone except Irene can clearly see is a doll called Jo who is gender-neutral and would, if only it were possible, be disparaged by ditchwater for its comparative dullness.
Every single element of fun that a six or seven-year-old boy should be allowed to experience is absent from his life - and instead he is spreadsheeted almost out of existence by his Steiner School-loving, muesli-eating, Munchausen's-By-Proxy-practising, psychology-obsessed, New Age weirdo of a mother who, if only she lived up the road from me in that part of Devon renowned for its alternative approach to living, would be known around the world as the Totnes Monster.
Irene is a character so well drawn and so believable that she deserves to transcend the books themselves and become as much a part of the popular imagination as Miss Havisham, Dr Jekyll, or Fagin. If Alexander achieved nothing else, that would be a claim to fame.
But that would be only scratching the surface, as millions of others know and I will no doubt discover when I turn my attention to his other series of books.
I've resisted quoting even a single line of his in this review as to do so would be a spoiler, however mild.
Instead, I urge anyone who hasn't read the 44 Scotland Street novels to treat themselves - and if they can get a discount for buying all nine at the same time, they should take it, because they'll end up reading them all and waiting for the tenth anyway.
• Jon McKnight is author of the comic novel A Prize To Die For.
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Read information about the authorAlexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit him online at www.alexandermccallsmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
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