Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

I was delightfully recently asked to take part in the ‘online blogger book group’ for the new Alexander McCall Series (and sequel to Corduroy Mansions) in The Telegraph. Now you all know me well enough by now that I cant read a series of books a few along. I have to start with the first one. This is being delivered in the post by the lovely people who asked me to join but I needed to be up to date before Monday and so I couldn’t wait. What emerged was a slightly crazy charity shop dash (which involved buying some books that weren’t Corduroy Mansions) through South West London, people doubted I could get such a new book at a bargain price but I did! The only problem was that in said shop this was t he window display, I think its best I don’t mention what else I walked out with…

Not a good sign

So was all the chaos worth it? Would the book be any good, if not would I be able to cope with following the new series ‘The Dog Who Came in From the Cold’? Also bare in mind that I had already tried McCall’s ‘Scotland Street’ series and wasn’t too sure about it even though I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and still do, which category would this one fall into?

Corduroy Mansions is the tale of the inhabitants of…well Corduroy Mansions, and those they interact with outside of the building they reside. William lives at the top of the building with his son Eddie, though he wants Eddie out going as far as getting a vegetarian cat loving dog (the wonderful Freddie de la Hay) and then moving in the besotted Marcia as a flatmate, perfect situation for some wonderful comedy. One the floor below lives a group of flat sharing girls. Jo an Aussie fresh to the UK but loving it and possibly one of her housemates, Dee who works in vitamins and pharmaceuticals and wants to give her assistant a colonic, Caroline an Art Student who once featured in Rural Life Magazine and is now sort of infatuated with James who is worried he might be straight and the bookish Jenny who works for the odious Oedipus Snark (brilliant name) the nastiest Liberal Democrat MP you could ever wish to meet.

Not only do we get to follow these colourful characters lives we also get to meet and in some cases follow the people that they have in their lives such as Oedipus through whom we also get to follow his mother Berthea, who is writing her sons biography, and her wonderful ‘spiritual’ brother Terence Moongrove. There is also Oedipus’s long suffering girlfriend Barbara Ragg who runs a publishing company and is about to have quite a change in life. These characters are also wonderful and make you want to read more; it’s almost like wonderful character overload.

Now if you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned plot… well there isn’t a huge plot to it. It’s much more subtle than that. There are small storylines for all the characters as McCall Smith himself puts it “these stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots” and with this many characters it could get confusing but it never does. I really, really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who loved Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series though it’s somewhat gentler, though there is more adult humour in this one than in 44 Scotland Street as I recall it. I would also recommend it for anyone who likes a good old nosey peep into normal characters lives, their little quirks and how they all interact. Delightful reading!

Has anyone else read this? Is anyone a fan of McCall Smith? If not could you be converted by this book? Can anyone recommend why I should try and read more of the Scotland Street series, should I start again? Are you following the new series? Does serialization work for you?


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Review

16 responses to “Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

  1. I am very impressed that you managed to find this book so cheaply. You obviously have a much better standard of charity shop than I do (although I do love the cheapness of mine!)

    I thought Corduroy Mansions was OK, but as you know I do like my books to have a plot! I think these books will work much better in serial form and look forward to reading along with you.

    • I just have some rather affluent charity shops not to far down the road where you can get most of the top 40 books for around £2 and the top hardbacks about £6 which isnt bad.

      I am glad I read the first one before the new series as though think McCall Smith is doing a great job of reintroducing characters I like knowing their pasts and backgrounds a bit more.

      • Veronica

        God, you lucky bugger. Where? I am on a search for vol 2 of David Cairns’s biography of Berlioz – would it be in your bookshop, do you think?

  2. Love the photo of the shop window! I love it when you can buy new books really cheaply. As I work in South Kensington where people are super rich and clearly don’t do libraries the charity shops within reach of a lunchtime stroll are filled to the brim with cheap, excellent quality, largely unread copies of the latest books. They’re less good on old books but they are helping me to branch out and read more modern stuff so that’s always a plus.

    My sister loves Alexander McCall Smith but I can’t say I’ve ever really tried that hard to get into him. I do like series – when I love characters, it’s always nice to know there is more to discover about them, but at the same time it can be daunting when you decide you want to get started on a series and you realise there are fourteen or so books you have to get through. Sometimes I just want one volume! What I hate is when I inadvertently buy a book that is number three or four in a series and then I have to track down the others and catch up before I can read the original book I bought…too much like hard work really.

    • I am most envious you found I Served The King of England in the fabulous South Ken charity shops, when I had my weekend there I was searching high and low for it, so well done indeed! I have similar shops not too far from me in both directions so Peresphones and latest books are easy to find.

      Hahahahaha – I know how you feel about accidentally buying a series quite a way in. Thats happened a few times.

  3. I’m still finishing off listening again to the podcast version of the first series of Corduroy Mansions, before I launch into the new one. I have another eight chapters/episodes to go. Until I’ve caught up I will be approaching posts on this subject with caution. There may not be a lot of plot to give away, but I still want to take things in series order, plus things do actually happen to these characters from time to time. I had forgotten about Barbara Wragg’s very sudden engagement, for example.

    • Oops sorry didnt mean to give away a polt spoiler… sorry as hate it when people do that.

      I have to say if anyone blogs about a book I have coming up to read I just dont read it and pop back later, that way nothing gives anything away as sometimes the smallest comment can give something huge away.

      • Fear not, Simon, I don’t think you gave anything away. I generally adopt the same approach as you in order to avoid spoilers. Anway, I’ve now read the first three installments of the new series, so I’m nearly up to date. The comments people have posted on the Corduroy Mansions pages are almost as charming as McCall Smith’s own writing though, for those of us who are accustommed to reading blogs like yours, having the most recent comments at the top takes a little getting used to.

  4. Cristina

    Hi! Lovely post! May I ask what book group this is? I have searched for it online bit can’t find a link to it anywhere. Also enjoying CM!

    • The book group is one that some bloggers were invited to, I am not quite sure how we were chosen. I am also not quite sure how we are going to be used in the future but of course I will keep you all posted.

  5. I read and loved Alexander McCall-Smith constantly pre-blogging. I think I read all his fiction. Since I’ve been blogging, I haven’t been drawn back. I guess I see there are so many other things out there, I’d like to try other things more.

    So while, I did enjoy No 1 LAdies and Scotland Street and the Isabel Dalhousie and the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, I just feel like I’ve had enough. I don’t intend to read this one too!!

  6. I love this author’s writing, but was not struck with the Scotland Street series, thought it was too much of a good thing. Out of all his books, the series I love best are the Isabel Dalhousie books. I have just read the latest and I take great pleasure in them.

    • I have only read the firstIsabel book and need to give the second a go though am worried have left it too long. Glad someone else isnt the biggest fan of Scotland Street, though I did buy the latest for 75p the other day so subconciously I am apparently going to read them all!

  7. Pingback: The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith « Savidge Reads

  8. Veronica

    I have become bored with AMS. His books are, to my mind,” ‘flu fodder”. The sort of thing that one reads whilst tucked up in bed with ‘flu and feeling yuck; when it’s impossible to think straight and feel in need of a boiled egg with soldiers. (Ohhh, that sounds a bit racy, but you know what I mean!)…I quite liked the African ones at first but won’t buy any more. I loved little Bertie in the Scotland Street series, but no-one else touched me. I find the rhythm of the prose quite fractured sometimes, too. Perhaps because he had written the stories (or most of them) as a series for the Scotsman and therefore feels the need to re-capitulate constantly. A little bit of editing would have gone a long way into improving the flow of the narrative. A lot of my friends like him, however. To be fair, a lot of my friends who like him don’t read much. The Daily Mail is their paper of choice. I think that says it all, really.

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