It is always a joy to read Alexander McCall Smith.
‘Heavenly Date’ is a collection of short stories about people going on dates, ranging from the middle aged couple in Switzerland who spend thousands on casual gifts for each other, to the man picking up a prostitute and the young girl who has a picnic with an angel. Many, but not all, of the stories are set in Africa, in the last days of empire. Alexander has a feel for this continent and that particular age, which is unmatched, something which is reflected in his First Ladies Detective Agency stories (although these are set in a later period). He always writes with such gentleness and at the slowest of slow paces. ‘This is what I will I’ll do it. Yes, I will do it.’ These words are not an exact quote, of course, but they hit the general tone.
However, on the subject of style, I was irked by the number of times sentences in the same paragraph began with the words ‘There is…’ or ‘There are…’ and also by reps. Alexander writes amazing stuff, but I also know that he churns it out very fast, two or three books per year.
Some of the stories ramble, ‘Bulawayo’, for instance, which concerns two very sheltered and innocent twenty somethings in old Rhodesia, who couldn’t bring themselves to consummate their marriage. The story ends in a way we in the twenty first century would find particularly shocking, except that, the way Alexander wrote it, it didn’t seem shocking at all. For such an easygoing author, his work is deceptively intense and thoughtful. The man is a polymath, someone who understands art, poetry, music and philosophy, but he wasn’t philosophising in this collection of stories.
So, great stuff, as usual and definitely worth reading. McCall Smith books tend to be very expensive these days, so I was thrilled to be able to pick this one up, secondhand, in a village fete. Have you noticed the sort of books that appear in charity shops, fetes and secondhand bookstalls? I can tell you that, apart from one or two classics, Heavenly Date was the only one off this particular stall for which I felt motivated to part with even 50p. All those authors who area held up to us as role models, people we have been are encouraged to emulate, their books are piled up in these places – Dan Brown, especially.
Must dash. I’m passing the time in my polling station – again – writing this on my iPad which is now down to 13%. Also the Internet connection is dodgy. Seven and a half hours to go, and over a hundred voters (out of less than four hundred) have already voted. (If you’re reading this some time after posting, you’ll realise that this is being written on General Election Day.). Close watchers of this blog will have observed that this is my second book review of the day!