Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

posted in: Books, British, Entertainment | 2 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

I discovered the 44 Scotland Street series while listening to Confessions of A Serial Novelist by Alexander McCall Smith, an obscure audio offering in the OneClickdigital App. I downloaded it because I had read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years earlier and was curious to hear what nuggets of wisdom such a successful author as McCall Smith might have to share.

The recording turned out to be a one hour lecture given in New York City in 2006 and featured more humor than substantive advice on how to succeed as a novelist. (Although, perhaps that is a good lesson in itself. Perhaps humor is the secret to success as a novelist?) The highlight of the lecture came at the end: an excerpt from the second 44 Scotland Street novel: Espresso Tales.

44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is <a href="" target="_blank">Edinburgh Castle</a>, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.
44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is Edinburgh Castle, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.

The passage was about a six-year-old boy named Bertie whose mother forces him to learn Italian and play tenor saxophone. This was interesting. I immediately checked the app for the 44 Scotland Street audiobook and downloaded it. While the passage McCall Smith read focused on Bertie, the series features a much larger cast of characters, some of whom are listed here on his website.

The first book of the series focuses primarily on the residents of the building the book is named after. (While Scotland Street is a real street in Edinburgh, there is no number 44.) There is Pat, a young girl of 20 on her 2nd gap year, working as a receptionist at an art gallery. Pat’s flatmate is Bruce, a rugby shirt-wearing narcissist with a passion for hair gel who works as a surveyor (real estate appraiser in the US). Across the hall is Domenica: world-wise anthropologist, widow, advisor to Pat, and friend to Angus. Angus lives on a neighboring street: a 50-something portrait painter and companion to Cyril, a beer and coffee-drinking dog with a gold tooth.

There’s also Matthew, the somewhat dejected owner of the art gallery Pat works at, who often enjoys long coffee breaks at Big Lou’s. Before Big Lou purchased Big Lou’s, it had been a bookshop. After the purchase, Lou moved all the remaining book inventory to her residence. She reads them whenever she is not running her coffee bar, giving rise to thoughtful and occasionally spirited philosophical discussions over coffee with customers.

With all the characters and funny storylines, I am reminded of Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The books are fun to binge on, another thing in common with Downton Abbey! I discovered the series in August, four months ago, and I am already on the fourth book of the series: The World According to Bertie.

I have plenty more to say about the books, their author, and the narrator of the audiobooks, Robert Ian Mackenzie, but I will save it for a later post. For now, I will leave you with this interview with Alexander McCall Smith that I discovered from The Guardian. In it, he discusses the 44 Scotland Street series in his usual light-hearted and modest style. Happy Friday!

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Good, Evil, and J.K. Rowling, Post-Harry Potter

Good, Evil, and J.K. Rowling, Post-Harry Potter

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After Harry Potter, the theme of good versus evil remains a key focus for J.K. Rowling, however post-HP, she has ventured much further into the evil side of things.

The Cormoran Strike series is set in London and features a cast of celebrities and models in the first book and a cast of prominent writers, literary agents, and editors in the second. I have just begun reading the third book of the Strike series, Career of Evil, and therefore have limited commentary on the book. Depraved behavior can happen anywhere, but it may be easier for some to observe it in the harsh conditions of London in the Strike series, rather than the purportedly idyllic setting of The Casual Vacancy.

In my 10th grade history class, we studied various Enlightenment thinkers, including Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Namely, Hobbes said, “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” This seems to be a guiding philosophy certainly for The Casual Vacancy, and to perhaps a milder extent, the Cormoran Strike series.

In all of Rowling’s post-Harry Potter work, it feels as though you are being forced to stare unblinkingly at the more unseemly side of humanity. It can be quite uncomfortable to read, and maybe that is her goal. There seems to be a keen desire to look at people’s imperfections, all the parts most people keep concealed due to social niceties.

Rowling pokes and prods mercilessly at her character’s vulnerabilities, creating a sense of brutal honesty. The bright jewel of hope that was a constant reassuring presence in Harry Potter is nearly entirely snuffed out in her work since. The brightest point of the Strike series is his assistant, Robin Ellacott, but even she may have a dark secret lingering in her past.

The Strike series so far is definitely engaging and thought-provoking; the storytelling and suspense, top-notch. However, and I realize J.K. Rowling doesn’t answer to me, I would love if she could write something a little lighter in this post-Harry Potter world.

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