— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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July 17, 2010

Corduroy Mansions

I tried, I really did, to read Corduroy Mansions when and how it was first published, as a serial in The Telegraph.  I had read about Alexander McCall Smith launching his 44 Scotland Street stories this way, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to read this new serial in real time. I learned (much later than most people) about RSS and podcasts and got myself set up. Then, unfortunately, I got behind, and didn't have time to read last week's installments before this week's came up, so I gave up and decided to wait for the book to come out. {I missed the sequel, too! Although I'm hoping it will still be posted for a while, so I can read - or listen to - it in its proper place, after this book.} According to Twitter, he's now working on the third installment.

Corduroy Mansions is the name given by its residents ('There was something safe about corduroy, something reassuring, and while corduroy might be an ideological near neighbor of tweed, it was not quite as...well, tweedy') to a block of flats, this time in the Pimlico neighborhood of London.

...'And here's this lovely building, your Corduroy Mansions. Crumpled - if a building can be crumpled. Utterly friendly and human. A building that says, 'Come in, love.' That's what it says:  it calls us 'love', like a tea lady. A building that one would like to sit down and have tea with. That sort of building.'

They both looked up at the comfortable brickwork.

'Those are our windows up there,' said Caroline.

James smiled. 'Lovely. Lovely windows.'

Caroline looked at him, appreciatively. What other man would compliment one's windows? As her younger sister would say - with the elongated teenage vowel that signified utter approbation - he's sooooo sympathetic.

Was there a possibility? That business about stages - was there any truth in it? she wondered.

No, she must put all of that out of her mind. James was here to bake biscuits. Nothing more.
(Speaking of those biscuits...)


This book definitely reads like a serial, with very short chapters and a lot of weaving back and forth among characters and story lines, very similar to the Scotland Street books, which I also enjoyed. Sometimes it's good to have a book that you can dip into and out of without losing your way or missing out on subtleties (this isn't a book that has may of those). Like AMS' other books, there's some philosophy, and some funny nonsense, and a lot of literary/political/topical references. Except for some odd episodes (the dog fight, for example), some eccentricities (Terrence's crop circle -- next to Freddie de la Hay, he was my favorite character), and some story lines you'd really rather not hear the rest of (SPOILER ALERT:  Martin and his Sunday-morning appointment), the stories (and the people) are quiet and domestic and sometimes a little dull. But most of all, these books are just fun to read, and for me that's a perfectly good reason to look forward to them. For me, it's also fun to think about how AMS might be pulling together all the character traits and references he weaves in....are his mind and his imagination just working and storing things up all the time? And what about the handsome Basil  Wickramsinghne, of 'Basil Buys a Blazer' (there were deeply philosophical storylines about pink overalls and an oatmeal-colored sweater in the 44 Scotland Books, as I recall )? He didn't have enough of a role...must definitely read the sequels to see if this lapse is remedied.

I'm not sure exactly how many different series AMS has written, but I know there is at least one that I haven't sampled yet (something about Portuguese irregular verbs).  I enjoyed the 44 Scotland Street series, which was similar to one (interweaving stories about the people living in an apartment building, this time in Edinburgh)...it was hopeless; I would never have been able to resist reading a book titled The Unbearable Lightness of Scones.  I haven't been as drawn to the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, even when it was on HBO, but I might dip into it again (I read the first one and the most recent). The books I like best are the ones about Isabel Dalhousie, and I'm looking forward to the new one coming out in September or so.

1 comment:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I haven't read any Alexander McCall Smith books yet, but I think I'm going to have to give it a go?

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