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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?