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Alexander McCall Smith, Tea time for the traditionally built

February 8, 2010

Alexander McCall Smith said at the literary event I attended recently that if he achieves nothing else in his life he is glad he introduced the concept “traditionally built” because it has brought such comfort to many women (particularly, he says with a twinkle in his eye, in America!).

Tea time for the traditionally built is the tenth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – which is not a bad achievement for an idea that started out as a short story! The eleventh in the series, The Double Comfort Safari Club, is now out (in Australia at least) and McCall Smith has no plans yet to finish the series. When you’re on a good thing …

I am not, as I said in my recent post on McCall Smith, normally a reader of series, but I have made an exception for this series and forgive it the things that would normally make me steer clear of books like this, such as simple language and repetition of theme, because, well, because it is gentle and generous. Generosity is, in fact, an important quality for McCall Smith. At the talk I attended he said that he rarely based his characters on real people because that would be “an abuse of authorial role”! Tell Truman Capote that! When he does draw on real people, he said, it is to paint that person in a positive light. One such example is Mma Potokwani, matron of the Orphanage that features in the Detective Agency series, who is clearly a woman he admires.

Anyhow, onto Tea time. It’s a gentle read – with the plot this time focusing on a football team that is suddenly losing every game after having been consistently successful. The owner, Mr Molofololo (great name eh?), suspects a traitor in the ranks and Mma Ramotswe is, of course, called on to investigate. Suffice it to say that she does and the outcome isn’t quite what Mr M suspected.

I’ll say just one more thing about these books and that is that McCall Smith does create “rounded” characters…even the admirable ones have their flaws and this, I think, gives his books a little depth that can engage even though the language and style do not offer the challenge than I prefer in my reading. Reading one a year is a nice thing to do – and keeps me in touch with a writer who knows the world has problems but who likes to think that people can be good, and that there is hope yet!

Alexander McCall Smith
Tea time for the traditionally built
London: Abacus, 2009
266pp
ISBN: 9780349119977

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2010 5:10 pm

    I read the first book in the series just last year. I thought it was charming, but like you, I did not feel I could just tear through book after book. I like your description of the books being generous. I would also say leisurely. They move at a very tropical pace.

  2. February 8, 2010 9:02 pm

    I have to be in the mood to read McCall Smith. The last time I was in the mood was in 2001 on a long plane journey. I don’t usually sleep well on planes LOL!

  3. February 9, 2010 8:17 pm

    Great story telling is an art. It doesn’t matter how simple the story, the ability to captivate your readers is a rare gift and evidently Alexander McCall Smith has it. Nice review – if only I had time for everything I read about!

    • February 14, 2010 12:09 am

      Thanks Tom…I was thinking more about him while I was away this week and the thing that shines out is his storytelling ability. He clearly does have a gift for creating engaging characters and spinning stories about them that are pretty simple but somehow original too.

  4. Sidney permalink
    February 10, 2010 3:38 am

    I’ve read his Scotland series – at least in part – and liked it. What is ‘traditionally built?’

    • February 11, 2010 10:45 am

      Fleshy. Fat. Plump. Full-figured. The author’s way of telling the reader that fulsome stocks of adipose tissue used to be viewed with approval in Mma. Ramotswe’s part of the world; now it’s fashionable to be slender. If she’d had a European background he might have described her as Rubenesque.

    • February 13, 2010 3:59 pm

      DKS is right Sidney … it’s his term for a well-built woman, probably, if he were unkind, a bit overweight, particularly in terms of modern sensibilities.

  5. February 17, 2010 11:01 pm

    I haven’t yet read any of McCall’s books – just admired his covers on the bookshelf and wondered: …hmm…should I read these books? Would I enjoy them?

    As an ‘outsider’ to McCall’s world, these books vaguely remind me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books -which I really enjoy for a light, fun read.

    Am I right to assume this? I would love someone to convince me that I need to read these books. 🙂

    • February 17, 2010 11:27 pm

      Thanks Desert Book Chick. Not sure if you’d like a recommendation from a Jane Austen fan (yes, I’ve had a look at your blog! 😉 ) but here goes. I haven’t read Evanovich but my 20-something daughter has and she loves them for light relief as you say … Now they are somewhat in the “chick lit” style aren’t they, whereas Precious Ramotswe is more your traditionally built traditional values lady. I’m not sure that you NEED to read them the way you NEED to read Austen but I recommend you give the first one a go and see what you think. And then let me know so I’ll know how to respond to a similar request next time …

      BTW I see you live in Central Australia – wonderful, wonderful place. I’m a bit of a fan of deserts.

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