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Alexander McCall Smith, The Saturday big tent wedding party (Review)

September 2, 2012

I have a number of tenets – if that’s not too grand a word for it – according to which I read. These include that I don’t read series books and I don’t read crime. However, the best rules are made to be broken, aren’t they? And so, I break mine for our family holiday tradition which is to read the latest book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. We are now behind though. We should have read The Saturday big tent wedding party (the 12th of now 13 books in the series) last September. But that annual family holiday as well as our February holiday this year were cancelled due to health reasons. We finally got away in August … I have now read the book and am about to pass it on to the next eager reader.

So, what to say? If you know the series you’ll know what it is about and may have read this one already. If you don’t know the series, then I’d say if you are looking for something warm and charming, with a touch of humour, to fill in a quiet time you could do worse than spend a few hours with Precious Ramotswe and her family and friends. Or, if you prefer to spend your reading time on different fare, watching the miniseries on DVD could be just the thing. It was an enjoyable adaptation.

I said that I don’t read crime. However, these are probably not books leapt on by aficionados of that genre. There is always a crime to investigate of course … but while the crimes in these books have, on occasion, involved violence or real danger for the victims, their resolution never depends on violence, guns, car chases and the like. Rather, Precious (and her assistant, Mma Makutsi) use common-sense, psychology, simple observation and forthrightness to determine the perpetrator. Police, courts and jails are rarely if ever invoked.  The denouement, instead, usually entails natural justice and/or negotiated restitution. If only life could be managed this way …

Which brings me to McCall Smith and his philosophy. These books espouse a life based on moral and ethical behaviour, on forgiveness and humility, and on understanding where the other is coming from. It might seem (and is) a little cutesy at times, but the heart is real and the lessons seriously intended. In resolving the crime in this 12th book, Precious Ramotswe thinks:

There would be no further attacks – that was clear, and the damage had been set right by the one not responsible for it. All that was lacking was the punishment of the one responsible. But punishment often did not do what we wanted it to do …

And the one responsible … well, that would be giving it away. Suffice it to say that it’s not as simple as it might have looked at the beginning.

The rest of the book – like its predecessors – continues the story of Precious and her family. The apprentices are growing up (at last), a wedding finally occurs, the tiny white van is not totally lost – and Mrs Potokwani continues in her well-meaning but organising way.

And now onto the next holiday read …

Alexander McCall Smith
The Saturday big tent wedding party
London: Little, Brown, 2011
248pp.
ISBN:  9781408702598

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2012 9:52 pm

    I haven’t read any of this series but it does seem like a warm holiday read. It makes me think of a thriller I wrote years ago while living in Ghana. Must be in the bottle drawer with my other efforts!
    I read ‘The Coward’s Tale’ and ‘The Beautiful Indifference’, both great books.

    • September 2, 2012 9:56 pm

      Thriller is not quite the word for these books, Catherine! Have you been to Botswana? McCall Smith promotes it well in these books as a pretty successful African state.

      • September 3, 2012 3:42 pm

        No I’ve never travelled to southern Africa, only West and East, and I am drawn to books set there so perhaps I should try. Might buy some for my aunty and borrow them back!

        • September 3, 2012 4:16 pm

          They’re good aunts books I think, Catherine. They’re not gritty books!

  2. September 3, 2012 2:09 am

    Oh I love the Ladies #1 Detective books – not so hot on the other Alexander McCall Smith series – I don’t know why – I think it’s something to do with the setting, and Precious, of course.

    I started the series when it first came out – it got so much hype in the US and I caved. I don’t usually enjoy the widely hyped books but this one caught me. So I read each and every one as they came out – sometimes I listened to them. They just touch my heart I guess – and what with being set in Botswana with a lady detective of “traditional proportions” – well …

    Question – does Australia get new books when Britain does? In the US we sometimes have to wait until a new book by a UK author becomes available here – sometimes a year or more, maybe never. Only if it’s a very popular author will the release be simultaneous. If a book makes the Booker Prize short list but is not by a known author, it might take a bit of time. How about Canada and Ireland – do they all get their books at the same time?

    • September 3, 2012 8:55 am

      Ah Bekah … I thought of you as I wrote this because I remembered you like them. I haven’t read any of his other series. Some I know love them while others don’t I’ve noticed. I’ve decided that I have so much else I want to read that this will do me for McCall Smith.

      As for your question, my sense is that it’s variable and to do with the publishers … And what they think might fly. If it’s a big international publisher like Penguin, it’s more likely but not guaranteed. If it’s a small publisher it will depend more on deals negotiated with local publishers. That’s as best as I’ve worked out. Mostly commercial, with some Aussie importing laws thrown in which limit importation of new books. They must be published here or not be imported until a year after publication elsewhere, I believe,

  3. September 3, 2012 2:56 am

    I don’t know if I read more than 5 or 6 of these, though I always enjoyed drinking Rooibos tea while doing so!

    • September 3, 2012 8:57 am

      Great Hannah! I wonder if McCall Smith gets royalties from Rooibus tea makers! He must have singlehandedly multiplied its sales to unheard of heights.

  4. September 3, 2012 11:02 am

    Like you, I choose not to read fiction that involves ‘violence, guns, car chases and the like’ but I love good social crime fiction and the way the series format allows authors to explore place and time through a protagonist of integrity like Precious Ramotswe. I’m reading Donna Leon’s series set in Venice at the moment.

    • September 3, 2012 4:18 pm

      Social crime fiction, Judith. I like that description. I’m thinking of getting Len into Donna Leon now he’s retired and finding more time to read. I know a lot of people who like them.

  5. September 4, 2012 8:50 pm

    They are charming these. I stopped reading McCall Smith a while back (just a bit too nice in the end) but I did read a fair few and I absolutely understand the ttraction.

    In terms of genre they’re squarely cosies aren’t they? It’s a crime sub-genre, and historically a very successful one. McCall Smith is very good at them.

    • September 4, 2012 10:13 pm

      Hi Max … And thanks for commenting. Yes, I agree about the niceness … Once every year or so for a tradition is fine but a steady diet would be like having fairy floss every day … Not good for you in the long run! Are there others writing in this sub genre?

      • September 4, 2012 10:34 pm

        Historically tons were, nowadays I think some but McCall Smith was the only one who ever tempted me from that sort of storytelling so I don’t know them. I liked his humanity if that makes sense. Also, he’s a pretty good writer.

        • September 4, 2012 10:46 pm

          Yes, i agree that the humanity is the thing here .. And he believes the philosophy he is espousing. I like that. It’s not naive but it’s positive … A fine line but I think he gets it.

  6. September 5, 2012 2:34 am

    I’ve not read these books and I am not a crime/mystery reader in general but sometimes I make exceptions too. When one does make exceptions it adds a special something to the experience I find, and your tradition, well, that would make it so much more enjoyable too!

    • September 5, 2012 8:49 am

      That’s a nuce point Stefanie – that making an exception adds something to the experience. You’re right, though I hdn’t thought of it that way before.

  7. November 6, 2012 6:34 am

    I have not read The Saturday big tent wedding party yet, but can not wait to get started.

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