Portuguese Irregular Verbs

by Alexander McCall Smith

Paperback, 2004

Call number





Anchor (2004), Edition: 1, 128 pages


Von Igelfeld is the world's leading scholar on Portuguese irregular verbs, having written a majestic, nearly 1,200-page book on the subject. As one review says, "There is nothing more to be said on this subject. Nothing." But in other matters, von Igelfeld is not nearly so skilled. Whether haplessly playing tennis against an equally dreadful opponent, or committing his friends to swordfighting duels without their knowledge, von Igelfeld is somewhat naive in the ways of the world. Yet that does not stop him from having a go at life, and the results are always humorous.

Media reviews

My own brain
I am headed to local library to check this one out again. If you like to laugh and have a dry sense of humor you will absolutely relate to this book....and quick note, it's first in a series of three. The negative reviews on this book astound me. What planet are you on? I take mine dry with a side of umph....

User reviews

LibraryThing member Sorrel
Three German professors galumph about. The one with a superiority complex is repeatedly humiliated.

I found this book both tedious and painful. It was unentertaining. It was not exactly unreadable, but definitely not worth the effort. Very disappointing, because I usually like McCall Smith, I find languages and linguistics fascinating, and I am predisposed to like academics.… (more)
LibraryThing member multilingualmaid
The story recounts the "adventures" of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, who prides himself on being the author of the book Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Full of zany and eccentric humor, McCall Smith shows us that three highly intellectual German philologists look at the world much differently than most. Settings vary from Germany, to Ireland, to Italy. A quick, light, humorous read that gently pokes fun at the world of academia.… (more)
LibraryThing member ericnguyen09
A Light Collection of Vignettes for Fans Only

Alexander McCall Smith , author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, shifts away from the mystery genre with his series of short novels featuring Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld, the first of which is Portuguese Irregular Verbs, named after the main character's academic magnum opus. A series of light vignettes, the books follows Dr. Von Igelfeld's misadventures as he tries to assert himself as an intellectual in the lost field of romantic philology as well to gain respect from his fellow academics. The results include dangerous amateur duels, obscenities from archaic Ireland, an unsavory tour of India, and toxic water in Venice. Along the way we also meet interesting secondary characters such as a racist Italian innkeeper and a dentist fatale.

While a bit unexpected for fans of his mystery series, the book provides a break from hard-boiled murders and gives us the light side of Mr. McCall Smith. His character Von Igelfeld is thoroughly an underdog and awkwardly lovable, and with each story, we cheer for him even though we know it will not turn out well for him. Despite this, however, the British/European humor is sometimes lost in translation, and for whatever humor there is to laugh at, it is usually a light chuckle or two, not something on the scale of say the Monty Pythons (but of course, the Monty Pythons are in a class of their own).

Overall, the book should be taken as it is: not a serious work of fiction, not part of his usual writing, but something light that can be read in a couple of sittings. However, with this said, the average reader would be disappointed. This should only be recommended to loyal McCall Smith fans.
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LibraryThing member meandmybooks
A solid three stars for this short and modestly amusing book. In a series of loosely related episodes, Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld moves from small triumphs to minor defeats and embarrassments and back again. His ponderings, which tend to focus on small professional rivalries, but sometimes wander into the theological and ontological, are both very plausible and mildly repellent. Igelfeld is fussy, often petty, and occasionally vindictive. His small intrigues almost invariably go wrong for him, but still he manages to maintain an impressive and rather endearing self-confidence and optimism. He reminds me very much of Basil Fawlty, from the old BBC series, Fawlty Towers, only with unassailable equanimity replacing poor Basil's helpless fury and despair. Infuriating, obnoxious, and hopelessly prone to the most absurd misfortunes and misunderstandings, you nevertheless find yourself sympathizing with Igelfeld and hoping that things will go well for him.… (more)
LibraryThing member saucyhp
I love the way Alexander McCall Smith writes, and have devoured his other series but I just couldn't get into this one. Its a shame as it would keep me going while I'm waiting for his next book to be published! Actually as I'm writing this I've decided to give it another try.
LibraryThing member heidialice
Dr. von Igelfeld and colleagues plot their petty intrigues and endeavor to preserve their pride through a series of comic undertakings and tame adventures.

While not as heartwarming as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, there is something charming about the petty concerns of these German academics. Without the clever, usually understated writing, this book would be sunk, but McCall Smith manages to pull it off. Not a book for everyone, but I will look for the others in the series.… (more)
LibraryThing member smik
Unabridged CD reading of the book by the same name read by Hugh Laurie. Not mystery genre. Stories about an extraordinary and eccentric German Professor, Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld. Really a thinly disguised short story collection made better than it really is by Hugh Laurie's excellent narration and voice impersonisation. And yet underlying the stories are some serious elements such as student high-jinks in German universities, the useless nature of some funded research projects, corruption in government circles in India, and the sinking and pollution of Venice.… (more)
LibraryThing member izzynomad
I was disappointed with this one. I found his other books hilarious, especially his 44 Scotland St. series (of which I'm a big fan), so I had high expectations for this book, but this tragicomedy just didn't live up to them. Prof. Dr. von Igelfeld is an uebergeek philologist whose highlight of his life was writing the masterpiece "Portuguese Irregular Verbs", a book that is now only sold as furniture. The Prof. Dr. finds himself in academic conferences in various places around the world, including Italy, India, and Austria, and the humor consists of his nerdy, almost autistic/Asperger's way of dealing with new situations and different cultures. It is somewhat funny at times, but geek humor gets old pretty quick for me, I guess because I know too many geeks...… (more)
LibraryThing member madamejeanie
The wit is dry and the humor sneaks up on you in this book. Another work of
minutia and seeing the world through the eyes of someone else with a
slightly sheltered, definitely warped viewpoint. This book won't be for
everyone, but it appeals to my sense of the absurd, and I'll be reading the
other books in the series, I'm sure. It gets a 3.5.
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LibraryThing member ethelmertz
It took me a while to get into this one. I read "Sausage Dogs" first and I like it much better, but this was still funny.
LibraryThing member gazzy
Teeters between funny and serious - the stories follow a likable german philologist. Teh comedy is based mainly on the starched pov of the academic world.
LibraryThing member Cecilturtle
About a bumbling snoot who would like nothing more than to take the academic world by storm. Charming and witty.
LibraryThing member name99
Not wildly funny, but amusing.
LibraryThing member quincidence
Witty yet light.
Complex sociology, yet esteem culture recognition.
Lighthearted though not taking itself too seriously, did discuss some rather interesting and sociological situations one must face in relations of academics.
LibraryThing member debnance
I like the simplicity, the kindness, the gentleness, the light humor, and the respect the author pays to each character in this story. Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective series, is not to everyone's liking. A friend, who I loaned one of the No. 1 series books, was irritated with the books. "Nothing happens," she complained. I know that is true. But somehow it suits me.… (more)
LibraryThing member saschabos
Portuguese Irregular Verbs (and the rest of the von Igelfeld series) is completely hilarious. I've read this book several times, and I laugh out loud every time. The humor is VERY dry, and this book is definitely not for everyone. But if you like dry humor and are interested in the adventures of a very eccentric philologist, I urge you to read Portuguese Irregular Verbs (one of my favorite books of all time).… (more)
LibraryThing member rarewren
A colleague recommended the adventures of Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld to me, astutely intuiting that I would enjoy this quirky, breezy fiction about a dysfunctional philologist. I read it on vacation with my (witty, brilliant, and socially well-adjusted) academic friends and loved it! Having never read Alexander McCall Smith before, I found him a great storyteller, maybe someone I would want to adopt as a grandpa. Would read again!… (more)
LibraryThing member angharad_reads
Light, fun, friendly. (My expectations were fairly dismal, which helped. I've always had trouble with traditional picaresque tall tales such as Gargantua or M√ľnchhausen.) Would recommend. Am considering purchasing. I think this is my favourite McCall Smith series so far.
LibraryThing member lkernagh
Definitely not what I was expecting.... and not in a good way, either. Having fallen in love with Precious Ramotswe and the Botswana setting of Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I was kind of hoping for more of the same with this first book in his Professor Dr. von Egelfeld Entertainment series. Instead, I found myself reading a collection of loosely connected stories about a rather unlovable character focused on self-importance. Yes, the situations he finds himself in, usually of his own misguided contrivance, have the makings of good reading material - I admit, the battle of wits he engages in with Signora Cossi did have me raising an eyebrow or two! - but overall, this just didn't work for me. One reviewer has commented that this story is in a similar vein with A Diary of a Nobody where the focus of the story is to make much ado about mundane things and events and that may explain why this was a rather sub-par read for me. I really didn't enjoy A Diary of a Nobody when I read it a few years back.

Given that I do own the next two books in the series and in view of the fact that they are slim volumes, I will give book two in the series The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs a go and see if the Professor grows on me.
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LibraryThing member jjvors
[Portuguese Irregular Verbs] by [[Alexander McCall Smith]], author of the [No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency] series, is another wonderful addition to the humorous fiction genre. Professor Dr. von Igelfeld is a very smart, very specialized (witness his 1200 page magnum opus "Portuguese Irregular Verbs"), and very naive professor. He and his professor friends get into humuous contretemps dealing with the real world as well as the perils of academe.

The pacing and understated writing style is similar to [No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency], but the characters are more unbelievable and fantastic. My wife felt it was too silly. I loved it. Your mileage may vary.
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LibraryThing member veracite
Complete return to form by this author after the unfortunate The Sunday Philosophy Club. Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igenfeld is a gem.
LibraryThing member bell7
Short, episodic chapters tell the humorous shenanigans of Professor von Igelfeld, the author of the eponymous Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and his compatriots Prinzel and Unterholzer.

Von Igelfeld is a sort of hapless bumbler who can't get the recognition he so desires for his niche philological studies, and his adventures made me smile. After much trial and tribulation, I managed to get a copy of the audio version read by Hugh Laurie (apparently it's really difficult to find in the U.S. library system!), and I enjoyed his presentation of it. He does an excellent job with multiple accents and characters, and brings out the humor in the situations in which the professors find themselves in. Light, fun reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member nlanthierl
One of three books on the funny adventures of Prof. Dr von Igelfeld, it gently mocks the idiosincracies of academics and / or intellectuals.
LibraryThing member glade1
A coworker had recommended this series as hilarious entertainment, and I have enjoyed several of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, so I was eager to read this one. Unfortunately, I did not find it to be especially humorous. It is certainly droll, but I did not laugh out loud, and really am not interested enough in the characters to pursue more books in the series.

I admire Smith's mind and his ability to inhabit vastly different characters and locations, and his writing is clear. Perhaps the humor of this series is just a bit too understated for me?
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LibraryThing member Karin7
Sadly, this book was a disappointment & rather boring. All that saved it from getting 1 star was that I found a few things humourous. I only finished it because it's short.




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