Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
|Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
|Category: General Fiction
|Reviewer: Magda Healey
|Summary: The jokes are intelligent, the characters endearing and the whole lot is rather lovely without being mawkish: an effortlessly pleasant read which leaves one with a warm fuzzy feeling that things are - essentially - right with humanity.
|Date: July 2009
|External links: Author's website
EmbedVideo received the bad id "EM6mGYKyNhQ&feature=plcp" for the service "youtube".
Alexander McCall Smith, clearly encouraged by the success of his Edinburgh episodic novel 44 Scotland Street has now - quite fittingly, considering the Dickensian origins of the whole daily novel exercise - moved down South to London. Corduroy Mansions, set in London's Pimlico, has been serialised online on the the Daily Telegraph's website (in written as well as audio format) and is now available as a solid book.
Corduroy Mansions, just like 44 Scotland Street did, follows the lives of a group of disparate characters living in the apartment block of the title as well as others connected to them.
We have a widowed wine merchant and his wastrel of a grown-up son; a health shop assistant with an unshakeable belief in iridology and colonic irrigation; a very serious PR girl to an MP; the MP himself (possibly the only truly nasty LibDem MP, called Oedipus Snark); his psychoanalyst mother, who's writing his unflattering biography; the mother's brother who lives in Cheltenham and communes with higher beings via dancing; MP's lover and literary agent on the trial of Yeti; an art history student who thought he was gay but is having second thoughts; and a dog.
Corduroy Mansions consists of a hundred short chapters, some even readable by themselves. It's a chatty, sweet, meandering book, infused with intelligent humour and amiable humanity. McCall Smith knows what his fans love him for and continues to deliver the goods.
It delivers a benevolent commentary on the quirks of human nature and absurdities of modern life, occasionally exasperated but almost always kind. There is plenty of authorial wisdom but it's always tongue-in-cheek, with a wink towards the reader. My favourite phrase was: For just as small American boys may, in their log cabins, dream of the White House, so may small British boys, in their mews houses, dream of the House of Commons. The reader is not patronised even if the characters occasionally are.
Some scenes are supremely funny, most are pleasantly amusing – and 'pleasantly amusing' is what could be the shortest review of Corduroy Mansions , and possibly even the whole fiction oeuvre of Alexander McCall Smith as well.
'Gentle' is another adjective often applied to McCall Smith's fiction, and gentle it is, but it's also very much genteel. It seems to me that in British fiction – apart from the special case of chick/lad-lit - people living in flats are either sink-estate desperates or decidedly middle/upper-middle class; and this is true in the case of Corduroy Mansions. In some eerie way (and with nothing to do with the mood or even type of the story) I was reminded of Anita Brookner and P D James.
It's not a very memorable book, and it's not likely to leave a lasting impression or change the way anyone looks at the world, but then it doesn't attempt to. While it's there, being read, it's rather lovely without being mawkish: an effortlessly pleasant read which leaves one with a warm fuzzy feeling that things are - essentially - right with humanity.
Recommended for all but the most uncompromising fans of grit and grime.
Thanks to the publishers for sending this book to the Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.