Following on from the huge success of the "44 Scotland Street" series, Alexander McCall Smith 'moved house' to London's Pimlico and into his brand new daily novel, "Corduroy Mansions". The building itself - described in a guide to the architecture of the area as 'a building of no interest whatsoever' - is believed to have been built as an asylum, or possibly a school, or maybe it was a mansion block - nobody is very sure. In fact, nothing of its history is known, although it does have some nice Arts and Craft features. At the moment it is inhabited by an assortment of characters - including amongst others a literary agent, a wine merchant, one accountant, possibly the first ever nasty Liberal Democrat MP and his long-suffering PA, and a small dog in his prime. At least one character is on a voyage of self-discovery, which has taken him to Cheltenham so far. Although Corduroy Mansions is a nickname, it is now recognized by the Post Office.
Here's what I love most about Alexander McCall Smith's writing: his character development. There is not a single book of his that hasn't had me waxing on and on about at least one of his characters, and Corduroy Mansions is not exempt from this. I don't know who I loved more, William (and Freddie de la Hay - the vegetarian dog), Oedipus Snark (such a fun, bad character) or Barbara and her adorable, naive brother, Theodore.
This was the perfect airplane read. It had me giggling softly to myself, thoroughly engrossed in the unfolding drama all centered around a quiet, unassuming building. A fantastic read and one I highly recommend.
McCall Smith is evidently so used to writing serials that he doesn't even bother to tie up his plot lines any more, something that gives the structure of the book a rather unsatisfying feel. Worth reading if you happen to find a copy on a friend's shelves, but not worth spending money on, I would say.
Author Alexander McCall Smith writes with verve and wit, but something about this farce kept it from holding my attention. The characters and their predicaments are interesting, but the plot never seems to go anywhere--and wading through all the dithering over decision-making is monotonous and drags the story down. Several characters play a very small part in the tale, and don't seem to have enough to do. Either their roles should have been expanded or excluded all together.
While Corduroy Mansions is cleverly told, it lacks any nuance capable of hooking the reader and inciting him to care. I want to like this book and recommend it wholeheartedly . . . . I just can't.
I may read more about these characters if Corduroy Mansions becomes a series but I still prefer the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels to his other books.
Interesting but spoiled by the flat ending.
One particularly bit: "This technique of asking just the right question to inhibit further conversation was a useful one, and was used by William in other social circumstances when small talk needed to be avoided. At cocktail parties, where one might quite reasonably simply wish to stand, or sit, and not be pestered by other guests seeking to make small talk, the use of a discreet lapel badge was sometimes to be recommended. The badge might state one's religious position in unequivocal terms, and invite discussion on it. This a small badge saying 'Please talk to me about salvation' usually had the effect of ensuring a peaceful time at any party, leaving one untroubled by other guests coming up to engage one in unwanted conversation. Similarly a badge saying 'No longer infectious' could usually be calculated to ensure physical space, another commodity in short supply at the more popular cocktail parties.