Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

28. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party - twelfth in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2011
Kindle book - 14
finished, 4/1/11

For such a famous, well-loved, and much-read author, I sure know a lot of people who cannot get into these books of Botswana and Mma Ramotswe. They cannot put their finger on why. They just don't care for them. I have a great quote that I read years ago:
In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.
Andre Maurois (1885-1967)
And isn't that the truth! Thank goodness there are as many kinds of books as there are people.

For myself, I love these books. Every single one of them. I love the main characters, the locale, and the deep kindness that Alexander McCall Smith expresses in each book. I love the slow and quiet pace.

Mma Ramotswe is a detective, and there is usually a case or two interspersed in these stories of her daily life and the lives of those around her. In one book, a particular character is spotlighted, and in another book we get to know someone else a bit better. This time one of the young mechanics-in-training, Charlie is featured. He has always been a kind of caricature, a not very likeable character, but in this book we find there is some depth to him. And Mma Makutsi and Rra Phuti Radiphuti (one of my favorite names in literature) get married, hence the title. It has been so nice watching their romance develop over time. The case was a hard one for me. A farmer's cattle are being mutilated, and Mma Ramotswe must solve the crime. There isn't an easy solution, as with so many other things in this life. All along the way, she gets good advice and sustenance from her beloved and much referred to book, The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Andersen.

I love how Mma Ramotswe walks out in her garden each day.
She went out into the garden. The sun had set, but there was still a faint glow in the west, above the Kalahari - enough to provide that half-light that makes everything seem so rounded, so perfect. She stood in her garden and looked about her. Against the darkening sky, the branches of the trees traced a pattern of twigs and leaves - a pattern of such intricacy and delicacy that those standing below might look up and wonder why the world can be so beautiful and yet break the heart.
I love her ruminations on her country and her father.
On either side of the track, the grey-green bush stretched out, a landscape of struggling shrubs, leaves shrivelled and dusty, filling in the space between the endless forests of thorn trees. The more established acacia provided some cover from the sun, casting pools of shade under which, here and there, cattle clustered, their tails twitching listlessly against the flies. The prevailing note was one of somnolence and stasis, a note taken up and orchestrated by hidden choirs of screeching cicadas: this was a Botswana that had existed since the days when cattle-herding peoples first came to this land; this was a Botswana that was a hundred years from the world of Gabarone, from the world of cars, of white buildings, of commerce and diamonds. But it was the real heart of the country, the heart that she hoped, when her time came to leave this earth, she would see, in her mind's eye at least, before the final darkness set in. And for all that she belonged to Gabarone, and to that other world, Mma Ramotswe belonged here too, and felt beside her quite strongly the presence of her father, the late Obed Ramotswe. As she gazed out through the tangle of acacia, she felt he was there, seated beside her in the van, his familiar old hat resting on his lap, looking out at the cattle and rehearsing in his mind the possible bloodlines of these beasts he knew so well.
And last, but definitely not least I adore the titles and the covers of these books. This whole series is a perfect treasure to me.

Addendum: Please do go here to read a fantastic blog posting about Alexander McCall Smith's visit to a library.


  1. Monsieur Maurois is right indeed! And I must admit I have never heard of Alexander McCall Smith until now (unless you have mentioned his books before; in that case, I just don't remember). The way you describe it and with the quote, it sounds like a series I would enjoy as well. The online catalogue of my local library is going to get a visit soon :-)

  2. Nan, I admit I am one who thought she wasn't going to like these books. Of course, that all changed when I read the first one. I LOVED it! But then, for whatever reason I never picked up the second. Though I know I will at some point. I want to read the rest of them. But I want to set aside a chunk of time to do so. They are so different from my regular reading fare.

    I do not, however, like the other series set in Scotland. I tried and tried, but it's not for me. I thought the reverse would be the case. Go figure.

  3. How I loved this post and the previous one about Gladys Taber, for she is one of my favourite writers too. In fact, when I have insomnia (which is fairly often) I take down one of her books and reread the section pertaining to whatever month or season we are currently in. Never fails to sooth and comfort, and allow me to get back to sleep.

    I also love the Precious Ramotswe books. Sometimes I think the world is too much with us, and that is why finding books -- such as these -- which take a more kindly and gentle approach to things are such a joy.

    Thanks for sharing these two wonderful posts.

    Canadian Chickadee

  4. Thanks for your review of this book. I'm with you. Although I am behind in the series, I love these books and Mma Ramotswe's down-to-earth way of thinking. I find them extremely relaxing and always feel that I am on her porch when I read them drinking a cup of bush tea. She does not seem to get distracted with trifles, does she?

  5. I see you love these books as much as me. I'm up to book 8 and so far every instalment has been a joy. I actually find myself really disappointed when I discover someone I know doesn't like them. But I suspect crime lovers start them expecting a proper crime series and that's not what these books are about. And, much as I like a good crime yarn, I'm actually glad these are something else entirely as they are a real source of comfort to me in a world where things are not always as they should be.

  6. Thank you for such a well done review of the book. I have come to love Mma Ramotswe and you are right. Rra Phuti Radiphuti is a wonderful literary name.

    I think perhaps some do not care for the series because of the slower pace of the stories and the inflections. I went back and listened to the first book on audio and it was lovely listening to it and hearing the beautiful names as they rolled off the tongue of the reader (Of course, I always must sip some rooibos tea when reading any Ladies' Detective Agency books.)

  7. I'm reading Tears of the Giraffe at the moment and love this series. I think it helped me watching it on HBO because I can now understand some of the formalities and how to pronounce some of the names. Alexander McCall Smith is brilliant and Jill Scott did a wonderful job at bringing his character to life.

  8. Well, I love these books and never tire of them. When a friend's daughter went to Botswana for a holiday, I was beside myself to think that she would see where it all happened so real are the places and people.

  9. I have quite a few of these books, but have never been able to get interested. I'm going to try listening to the the first one on audio and see if that draws me in.

    ...a pattern of such intricacy and delicacy that those standing below might look up and wonder why the world can be so beautiful and yet break the heart.

    That's lovely! And I so agree with the one about literature and love (Maurois). Isn't that the truth!!

  10. Am dropping by to leave a comment as I have been remiss of late and I love reading comments on Random.

    I love these gentle books and always feel serene and happy after I have read them. Much though I love to have them I have passed my copies onto others as I just do not have room to keep all the McCall Smith books I would lilke to and this is where the Kindle comes in so handy. I will, however, keep mycopies of the Sunday Philosophy Club series by this author which are my favourite out of all his writings.

  11. If any of you come back, please note that I added a link this morning to a posting about AMS's visit to a library. It is wonderful!

    Oh, Librarian lucky you to be just beginning! I think you might especially like the Isabel Dalhousie series. More on all the books, and the series orders here:

    Yvette, it would be so much fun to read this whole series, one right after the other. I've thought of doing this, and also with the Maisie Dobbs books.

    Canadian Chickadee, aren't we readers lucky, lucky people to have such solace. It is a gift to love reading. I remember Gladys talking about not being able to sleep and after laying there for ages, she finally goes downstairs and eats. Says she should have done it when she first woke up!

    Linda, she is such a real character to me. And his descriptions of her activities make her even more so. Driving along, walking in the garden - he does such a good job that we can actually see her.

    Cath, I'm not sure how libraries catalogue them, but I simply call them fiction. And the wonder of Mma R. is that all isn't perfect in her world either - but the way she looks at things gives us the hope that we can do so, too. The books are filled with such hope, aren't they?

    Penny, yes. I think it's a bit like what I wrote about Nevil Shute. If you want a lot of crime and thrills, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series isn't the place to go. I'm just thankful that there are books that I love in this world.

    Staci, and Sue, isn't he just so great!

    Ann, I just read that there are going to be more television productions!! I'm so very thrilled.

    Sue, did you get to see her photos? If you haven't seen the television show, it is so worth seeing. Netflix has it. I adored seeing the streets of Gabarone and the countryside. You will love it, even if the story is a tad bit different.

    Les, you and I are the living examples of his words!

    Elaine, 'serene and happy' - who could ask for more?!

  12. I'm one of the obstinant readers who doesn't like this author at all. Can't tell you why. It just isn't my thing. The Maurois quote is so right.

  13. Barbara, exactly what I meant!! For example, look at the Dragon Tattoo books. Many people are wild for them, but they aren't for me. I am just very grateful there are so many kinds of books and writers for all readers.

  14. Hi Nan. I pre-ordered "Big Tent.." on Kindle -- the only time I've done that -- and read it ALL the first day it showed up. I'd forgotten I ordered it and it was a beautiful surprise. So this was also the first book I've ever read the first day it became available! This is also the only series I've read in order as the books came out.

    I'm glad you mentioned the cover, because I still kind of miss seeing that in color. I told Bill I was going to look for it the next time we go to the bookstore, just to hold it in my hand and look at the cover!!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts -- which express my feelings much better than I am able to do!

  15. Oh, Sallie isn't that just great! I've very rarely read a book in a day, but it is such fun. And that's not a bit true about expressing feelings! (but thank you)

  16. I do love these books, and they get me to want to visit Botswana. I collect literary cookbooks and bought Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook. It has wonderful recipes including bush tea and great pictures. I think you'd enjoy it.

  17. Kat, someone mentioned it to me, and I've ordered it! Thanks so much. I look forward to it.


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