Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book Review: The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith

The "44 Scotland Street" novels are one of the series of books that Alexander McCall Smith is known for and this is the fourth installment. Set in Edinburgh the reader follows a snapshot of the lives of the inhabitants of Scotland Street, with the young Bertie as a central character, a boy who is unfortunate enough to have an over-protective and over-ambitious mother pushing him into music classes and yoga lessons when all he wants to do is be a normal little boy.

The strength of this book lies in the characters. Seldom have I read a book with so many interesting and unusual characters that quickly make the reader want to know more about them and find out where their story is going to end up; the art dealer and his new girlfriend the teacher, the Jacobites, the woman whose father "buys" her a husband and little Bertie himself. Unfortunately, this leads to the major weakness of this book; the reader never gets very deep into any of the characters lives, they are spread rather thinly through the book and not one of them has their narrative concluded. In other words there is no plot at all.

Although I prefer plot-driven novels this book makes pleasant and intriguing reading, in fact it is very much like a literary soap opera which is indeed more-or-less what it is as this series of novels were originally serialized in a periodical and they are probably best read from the first book all the way through the series to get the most out of them. Another point of interest in the writing here are the pseudo-philosophical dialogues delivered by multiple characters which at first seem like they may be developed but later just made me think that the author had substituted his own soliloquies for any meaningful dialogue.

This is light-reading which is enjoyable on a superficial level, sort of like the fleeting meetings that one has while travelling but that, without having read previous installations, lack an overall picture and is totally redundant of any conclusion.

I would recommend this book to those who have read earlier parts of this serialized set of novels and enjoyed them as well as those who enjoy fiction driven by the richness of the characters rather than the plot. This novel is light reading at its lightest and perfect for winding down when on holiday or for reading between more thought-provoking material.

Score: 5.5/10

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