I have begun a re-read of the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith before the film is broadcast at Easter. I remember how much I enjoyed reading them the first time, waiting impatiently for each book to be published; I have finished reading the first book again and found it just as enjoyable as then.
Alexander McCall Smith's books must be read in the appropriate accent. The 44 Scotland Street and The Sunday Philosophy Club series demand a genteel Edinburgh inner voice, while Hugh Laurie's is the only voice to do justice to the Von Igelfeld books and the Ladies' Detective Agency books require the gentle, deliberate, clipped enunciation of Southern Africa. Sometimes, when I've been interrupted while absorbed in a book, I have answered the intruder in the persona of Domenica MacDonald, Isabel Dalhousie or Precious Ramotswe and I've seen my family making notes of these incidents, with very concerned expressions and exchanging knowing looks.
This book is full of humour, mostly subtle but occasionally outrageous:
"She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did. There were probably enough of them to form a political party - with a chance of government perhaps - but what would such a party do if it was in power? Nothing, she imagined. It would try to pass legislation, but would fail."
Mma Ramotswe encounters scoundrels and corruption and sometimes worse but she tackles each situation with an effective mixture of simplicity and cunning learned from her teacher Mma Mothibi, whose 'rules for being good' were very straightforward:
"A boy must always rise early and say his prayers. Then he must clean his shoes and help his mother to prepare the family's breakfast, if they have breakfast. Some people have no breakfast because they are poor. Then he must go to school and do everything that his teacher tells him...... For girls, the rules are the same, but they must always be careful about boys ......"
The adult Mma Ramotswe still sees everything and everyone as Good or Bad: men cheat, women still have to be careful about boys, there is poverty but there is also peace and growing prosperity and Botswana is the best place to live. Sitting in her garden or driving along in her little white van, she ponders on the land and people she loves so much and her musings are profound in their simplicity: "I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own."
I had forgotten the warm glow that comes from reading these books, they are funny and charming and full of wisdom. I do hope the film does them justice. Now I'm going to start on The Tears of the Giraffe.