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Bertie Plays the Blues: 44 Scotland Street Series (7) Paperback – Illustrated, October 8, 2013
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--Booklist (starred review)
"Eighty more bite-sized chapters bring curious readers up to date on the latest doings at 44 Scotland Street and its Edinburgh environs. . . . The neighborhood’s legion of fans will devour each chapter and be sorry when they’ve turned the last page."
“Full of charm, gentleness and penetrating insight.”
—The Daily Express (Scotland)
“You see the whole extent of McCall Smith’s gentle comedy of manners. . . . While it is written with abundant wit . . . there are equally large dollops of wisdom too.”
—Scotland on Sunday
Praise for the 44 Scotland Street Series
“Sweet . . . Graceful . . . Wonderful. . . . Gentle but powerfully addicting fiction.”
“McCall Smith’s assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound. . . . [His] depictions of Edinburgh are vivid and seamless.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Irresistible . . . Packed with the charming characters, piercing perceptions and shrewd yet generous humor that have become McCall Smith’s cachet.”
“McCall Smith’s plots offer wit, charm, and intrigue in equal doses.”
“The most genial of writers and the most gentle of satirists. . . . [The] characters are great fun . . . [and] McCall Smith treats all of them with affection.”
—Rocky Mountain News
- Publisher : Anchor; Illustrated edition (October 8, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307948498
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307948496
- Item Weight : 8.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #170,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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My only annoyance is the slovenly disregard to the character, Bertie, who, unlike all the other characters, seems to be stuck in an odd paradox. All - ALL - the other characters grow, have these wonderful story arcs as you as the reader glimpses voyier like into their lives. Bertie remains six, whereas everyone else is getting older. A small thing, but annoying.
Having just read the previous book, it was disconcerting that the author changed the facts about assistants at the gallery, though with very little impact on the action.
Stewart joined a lodge behind Irene's back, but Bertie's inability to lie brought the truth out in the open. By the end of the book Irene began to reevaluate her parenting style after Bertie ran away to be adopted like his friend Ranald.
The author continued to make the weak but kind Matthew be ineffectual in his life, making a stupid decision with his inherited money. One wants to like him but his actions make one despair of him as he starts his life as a father of 3. His wife normally keeps him from acting too stupid, but in her postpartum depression and tiredness, she initiates a silly move that results in his showing his ineptitude while trying to be a good husband.
As with other books in the series it doesn't really stand alone if one wants to enjoy the development of the characters and action. This book does have some real movement and ends with a forthcoming wedding and possible new love for Big Lou.
It is a worthy successor to previous volumes and has more action than some of its predecessors.
I always close the last page of an Alexander McCall Smith book feeling so enriched, both emotionally and intellectually. Each page is so full of wisdom and interesting details that I have to read each slowly, savoring their depth and meaning. I frequently find myself looking up further information about the Scottish and European history and people to which Smith refers (like the Oberammergau Passion Play - how interesting!) or finding definitions of words that aren't even part of my daily lexicon. It's no wonder these books take twice the time to read as any others! It is always time well spent, however. McCall Smith's humor is also prominent here (my favorite examples? Olive's belief that God's method of punishment is pulling out the offenders fingernails, one by one or Tofu's belief that war is made through tickling!) I absolutely loved this book and felt that it was one of the best in the series. I was a bit sad at the end, though, for it seems that everyone has come to a happy point in their lives (even my favorite little guy Bertie) and I wonder if Smith will end the series here. I truly hope not, for I love every visit to Scotland Street and look forward to many more.
Top reviews from other countries
Newly engaged boomers, Domenica and Angus, are struggling with the practical aspects of planning a merger of households; a discussion complicated by the arrival of an old first love. The Pollock family is also evolving in its own way with husband Stuart asserting more independence on his own behalf and that of his prodigy son, Bertie. Bertie, a paragon of brightness and common sense, continues to be baffled and frustrated by the main female in his life--mother Irene, but also by the clique of little girls at his school led by the ever-conniving and devious Olive. Irene Pollock, poster person for overbearing, yuppie maternity, gets a major wakeup call in ""Bertie Plays..." when her son takes a shocking step toward repudiation of her methodologies with the help of eBay.
Supporting characters Big Lou, Pat, Bruce and, above all the rest, Cyril the gold-toothed dog, all have important roles to play in this story, largely as participants in the conversations about the daily dilemmas of life that are the main point of the series and, the reader surmises, the author's larger purpose for writing. As in all of these books, there is a sweet satire that can be both gentle and provocative. McCall Smith is an author who openly admires sincerity and realness in people above all else. Conversely he doesn't have much time or toleration for phonies and posers. In "Bertie Plays.." that yin/yang outlook leads to serious partner-assessment and partner-switching that rivals what you would see at a Kansas hoedown. Most of this is to the good, as good people generally wind up with other good people.
Some readers may experience some hackle rising as the author comes out rather nakedly in this book as unreservedly preferring dogs to cats. ("Dogs are absolutely sincere--never hiding their true feelings. Cats are dreadfully insincere. Psychopaths--everyone of them".) Even this is said with good humor and honors the intrepid Cyril, companion to Angus Lordie. Cyril is once again given some of the best monologues in the book. It's funny and original.
I will admit that I am woefully hooked on this series and rarely find a single word to complain about as the episodes are published. But this particular book is really a wonderful read full of humor, wisdom and great conversations about things that we all care about everyday of our lives. Highly recommended (obviously).
I suppose people could make the same argument about the Edinburgh books; sometimes little seems to happen, banalities are exchanged, lives pass slowly. However I maintain that AMS's writing contains social satire as great as anything by Evelyn Waugh (Without the waspishness, cruelty or misanthropy, albeit).
Perhaps it helps that my earliest years were spent growing up in Edinburgh, as well as my living and working twenties and thirties. Anyway, I regard Alexander McCall Smith a master craftsman, who has also managed to be prolific and successful AND a thoroughly nice chap - amazing.
Alongside them is a delightful cast of characters .Angus Lordie et al.Superb.
Let me first deal with the positives - of which there are many. As with the rest of the series, we dive straight into the ongoing story with no unnecessary preamble. Around six months have passed, and - without giving away too much of the plot(s) - births are imminent, wedding plans are in hand, and Bertie is still yearning to escape the clutches of his mother. The character development, the plots, the humour and the philosophical asides are all what we have come to expect from a master story-teller.
So why the dissatisfaction? One word: continuity. Now I must confess that I am one of those annoying people who, when watching a tv show, will always spot when a character is seen getting into a blue car, but then climbing out of a red car. Yes, these things happen and some suspension of disbelief is always required when watching or reading fiction. Artistic licence and all that. But consistency of plot and back-story is always crucial to any soap opera, literary saga, or whatever. So it is a bit disconcerting to find that Bertie, after spending all the last book wishing he was 7, still appears to be 6. Perhaps we can accept this as part of the author's charm and whimsy, but later we have Bertie reminiscing on his adventures and travels, which include Glasgow but not Paris! How could Bertie forget that episode? Or has AMS forgotten it?
Skip this paragraph if you wish to avoid spoilers. The above appears halfway through the book. By then we have already had the chapter when Matthew decides to re-employ Pat at the gallery. Apparently he hasn't seen her for ages, but finds her phone number somewhere. Er... isn't she working there already, or did we just imagine her appearance in the last book? At the birth of the triplets, there is a philosophical discussion regarding the importance of the order in which they were born and a reference to the boys being told later in life which is (a) not appropriate for a contemporary narrative and (b) rendered totally irrelevant by the subsequent mix up of the babies! Other questions include why Pat is sitting in the pub waiting for Bruce at lunchtime, when their date is for dinner that evening? When did the gate appear at the bottom of the garden, when Matthew was previously peering through the hedge? How could Bertie and his mate bunk off school the day after their cub-scout meeting when the cubs meet on Friday night? Yes, these are all minor quibbles, but as they mounted up my irritation increased. It also seemed as if the end of the book came to quickly and caught the author by surprise such that all the stories had to be resolved too rapidly, particularly the Angus and Domenica situation and the very disappointing and frankly unrealistic way in which Matthew gave in to creepy Bruce at the end.
No more spoilers, I promise. Overall, the book is essential reading. Even if I had known in advance of the elements I found disappointing, I would still have had to buy the book simply to find out what happened next. Do we know if this volume is the last in the series? It certainly has that feel about it, not just because of the resolution of the story lines, but also because of the sense that perhaps AMS is getting tired of it, hence some of the sloppiness and shortcuts. Buy it anyway!