Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The wisdom of Mma Ramotswe

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 e
verything 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.


  1. You're absolutely right - there's a warm glow that comes from reading a McCall Smith which no other writers manage to achieve so consistently. His books are, quite simply, *different* from any other writer's. I'm beginning to pine for the next one - don't mind which series!

    A re-read is a very good idea - it's 5 years since I started on the No 1 LDA series, so it would not be over-hasty.

    On the other hand, there are all the new, completely un-read books on the TBR pile, which would surely reproach me with their shiny covers and unsullied spines were I to sneak a few 'oldies' into the queue.

    Perhaps the best plan would be to let *you* re-read them all and then enjoy them vicariously when you post about them.

    (I knew I'd find a practical use for this blogging malarkey if I waited long enough!)

  2. That sounds like a great idea, Juliet. Let's be satisfied with reading posts about books and cut down on the buying and that ever-growing and accusing pile of TBRs! My bank manager would be pleased.

    You're right about Alexander McC Smith - no other writer quite like him.

  3. I'm still on my first read of this series. I've read the first five but am going slowly as I hate the thought of finishing them quite frankly. Some people really dislike them but my impression is that those people were expecting a proper 'crime' book, which is not what these books are really. I'm very excited about the TV series - I just hope they don't mess it up like they have LRtC.

    I haven't read any of his other series but will go on to do so as I suspect I'll like those too.

  4. What a treat you have in store, Cath.

  5. Cath - if you are on Five you have another three to go with a new one due out soon so no need to worry just yet.

    I am saving the last Scotland Street to read, I like the idea of having it tucked away waiting for me

    After a slow start I am now loving the Sunday Philosophy Club series

    I will soon need a bookcase totally designated to AMS at this rate

  6. It's the Von Igelfeld series that I struggled with. I treated myself to the audio books, read by Hugh Laurie of course, and I'm getting through those in instalments when I do the ironing. Maybe I find the germanic temperament less attractive than the others?

  7. Yes, Monix, I know I have a treat in store. I'm looking forward to reading the other AMcS series immensely!

    Elaine, I have two of the last three on my tbr mountain. I walked into a charity shop one day and found an entire set sitting on the shelf. Bought the lot for about £7. Bargain.

  8. Cath - what a terrific find. I love it when that happens. My best find was at a jumble sale years ago. Lurking under a table was a box of books and when I pulled them out there were 15 Anne of Green Gables books in those wonderful 1930 type orangey covers. got them for under a fiver

  9. What a find, Elaine! (Rereading the first of thos myself this year as a matter of fact.)

    Of course then you get the reverse effect. I shelled out (sorry, bad pun) the full price for a copy of The Shell Seekers. Two days later I saw a copy for £1.50 in a charity shop and practically every charity shop I've been in since has had a copy! My irritation probably accounts for why I haven't read it yet... ;-p

  10. Elaine, I only know of 4 Anne of Green Gables books; please tell me there are treats I can still discover!

  11. I will list all the Anne books for your over the weekend! there are also loads more non Anne books which I will rave about non stop so will do so


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