Monday, November 5, 2012

The Dog Who Came In From The Cold by Alexander McCall Smith




56. The Dog Who Came In From The Cold - book 2 in the Corduroy Mansions series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2010
library book twenty-three
Nook book 21
finished 10/30/12


I find the 44 Scotland Street series, and this one, the Corduroy Mansions series to be an odd combination of thoughtful, gentle musings and quirky, barely believable characters. I like them well enough, but they seem like characters, not people. At least I can continue with Corduroy Mansions. I had to give up the Scotland Street books because the antics of the young Bertie (and others) were just too impossible for me to accept as a reader. The characters in Corduroy Mansions - the apartment building where many of them live - are a little more plausible. Yet they are definitely unusual, and the circumstances they find themselves in certainly stretch the imagination of this reader. All that said, I still enjoy the series. It is mostly pleasant, though a couple dog situations weren't. A dog being loaned to a spy agency to monitor the 'enemy.' Really? I would never put my dog in such a weird and possibly dangerous atmosphere. But, like Temperance Brennan in Bones, I am quite a literal person, and perhaps others would more readily find the humor. The philosophical musings and descriptive passages are what make the books appealing to me, and I will share a few of them.
On Saturday morning there were people travelling to see friends for the weekend, grown-up children returning to parents in the country for much-missed home cooking and laundry services, and tourists in search of an England that had once existed but now survived only in the imagination - an England of quiet villages and cricket greens and tiny, silent pubs.
They went upstairs to put their bags in their rooms. The guest room had been prepared for Jo, and there were flowers in a vase near the window. A small tin of biscuits had been placed on the bedside table, and a bottle of mineral water. The comforts of home, thought Caroline. These little touches.
"It's very beguiling, isn't it?" he said. "I never tire of it. Never. It's home, but it never seems to me to be anything but … Well, just the way the world should be, if we hadn't messed it up. The perfect landscape. What heaven will look like, if we ever get there."
Of course Barbara loved London, as so many Londoners did, in spite of their occasional complaints. … she loved its little corners, its poky little shops run by shabby eccentrics, its oddly named pubs, its gardens, its sudden turns of architectural splendor. She loved its extraordinary tolerance, which felt like an old slipper, she thought - as uncomplaining and as pliant as such footgear is in the face of all sorts of pressures and provocations. In fact, London was exactly that - an old slipper that had been home to countless feet and still welcomed and warmed the feet that came to it fresh.  It was not a bad thing for a city to be, when one came to think of it, an old slipper. You could not call Paris an old slipper, nor Berlin, nor New York. Only London.

"You judge these poor girls too quickly," he had said of one of them, a sound engineer from Glasgow. "How can you tell? You really must give her a chance." "But she has a piercing in her nose," Stephanie said. "You must have noticed. And her tongue too." Sorley shrugged. "The world's changing," he said. "Aesthetic standards change, What's unattractive to us may be just the thing for Hugh and his generation - we have to remind ourselves of that, you know."
She was dressed more or less as Barbara would expect somebody like her to dress, sporting as she did an olive-green tweed skirt with a navy-blue cashmere top - the sort of outfit worn by legions of country women in comfortable circumstances.

I hope these passages convey some of the pleasantness, the kindness, and the decent humanity which are hallmarks of Alexander McCall Smith's work. Certainly at least one of his many series will appeal to a reader, and it does us good to be in the company of such a cheerful, warmhearted writer. 

18 comments:

  1. So far, I have not yet read any of this author's work, and although the parts you quote seem very good, I would possibly be fed up with unbelievable characters and their equally unbelievable circumstances.

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    1. Maybe, but maybe not. Thicket House and Audrey below both like them. Reading is so very personal.

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  2. I have GOT to make time to read these books, Nan. I read the first in Number One Ladies Detective Agency books and LOVED it. But somehow I never got around to reading the rest. And these two series I know nothing about except for what you've told me. I have them on my list but....well, just have never gotten around to them. There are just so many darn books to be read. When I die I want to be buried with my books...just in case I get bored. Ha.

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    1. I think the Mma Ramotswe is my very favorite of his series. I've read all but the latest.
      I used to love Isabel Dalhousie, but not so much now.
      Very, very funny -your last sentence. :<)

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  3. I love the Precious series, but just couldn't read Scotland Street at all, so when I first saw this book at the library some while ago I was very curious which camp it'd fall in...definitely the Precious side for me. I enjoyed it and have now read the second book too. I actually blogged about this book last year while I entertained a brief flirtation with being an occasional book blogger. (I no longer entertain that fantasy.) But at the time I got a comment from a lady in England who said that this book ran as a serial in one of the London daily papers. And that McC-S took suggestions from his readers as to how to continue with the book and series. I found that very interesting!

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    1. You don't have to be a book blogger; you can just write about any books that move you to do so! Very funny description though.
      I knew that about the serial. I actually began listening to it as a podcast with the wonderful Andrew Sachs reading. He was Manuel on Fawlty Towers.
      I have that sense that the author is a most approachable and appealing man.

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  4. I've now read all three of the Corduroy Mansions books and like them in the way I like McCall Smith's work. There is some willing suspension of disbelief! It's like an alternate reality with our standards.

    Something about the unreality of these books and characters reminds me of Dickens (though quite different!) and he also wrote in serial form, often.

    I have some books in the 44 Scotland Street series that I haven't yet read, and now I am wondering what I will think.....

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  5. Thinking about Sallie's comment, I should say that I couldn't get into 44 Scotland Street at all in the beginning and then I listened to it on tape and it did the trick for me.

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    1. I listened to one on tape, and read a couple but then I quit. I liked a few of the characters, especially the dog who went to the bar, but I just couldn't take some of them.

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  6. I think that's what I like best about these books, though -- that unreality, with the warmth and humor that always goes with it. I just like to imagine AMS sitting in his study, or on a plane, and thinking all this stuff up. His brain/imagination must be percolating full time!

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    1. You are so right. He is an amazing man. He does so much in the world, in addition to writing a zillion series. I so admire him. Born the same year as me, and boy he gets a lot more done than I do. :<)

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  7. I've read a few of his series and enjoy them for the most part.

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  8. Thanks for this honest review. Now I don't feel so badly that I have not been able to get into any of Alexander McCall Smith's books beside the First Ladies Detective series, which I love. They just don't have what that series has. Maybe I need to give them another go.

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    1. I do like Mma R. the best. There's nothing 'out there' in those books. :<)

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  9. I have read every single series by Smith and I'm just now ordering Unusual Uses for Olive Oil which is the fourth part in the 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom series. Have u read that one? So glad to hear of this book. I had no idea a new one was out.

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    1. How does this man do it?!! It is hard to keep up with all the new ones. Amazing.

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Now that I am a grandmother, it seems that I am often late in replying to your most-appreciated comments. But I read them as soon as they come in, and I will write as soon as I can. Please do come back and check. I love these blogging conversations. A little addendum - I've just spent quite a long time catching up with dear notes you left me months ago!! I do hope you can get back to read them. And I'm trying to be much more prompt now!

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