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4.3 out of 5 stars43
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VINE VOICEon 7 October 2011
After 'The 21/2 Pillars of Wisdom' I eagerly awaited the next installment in the adventures for Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, which have seemed a long time in coming. In four short adventures the hapless Professor von Igelfeld displays all his characteristic comic pomposity, social ineptitude and lack of self-awareness that enable him to sail blithely through the most cringeworthy situations, in the company of his fellow linguistic academics Professors Unterholzer and Prinzel, and the Institute librarian Herr Huber.

This time he manages to tackle a situation in which he is sure his definitive treatise on Portugese Irregular Verbs has been confused with the lesser work of Unterholzer (the half pillar of wisdom) in the nomination for an academic prize, tries to court the widow Benz, falls down a mountain to great acclaim, delivers another well received after-dinner speech, and has another accident involving Unterholzer's dachshund.

AMS writes with his characteristic mix of subtlety and venom to satirise the self-importance of the arcane academic and the German obsession with titles and formality. Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. von Igelfeld is a truly terrific creation of humourous writing. The only complaint is that at about 200 pages of reasonable large font size printing the reader is left wanting more.
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VINE VOICEon 3 January 2012
I have to agree totally with the excellent detailed reviews already written. Professor Dr. Dr. von Igelfeld is one of McCall Smith's greatest creations, and it has been far too long since his first appearance many years ago. The hapless Professor undergoes yet more hilarious misunderstandings; every encounter with his academic colleagues in Regensburg seems to be burdened with slights, intended or otherwise, and the introduction of Herr Huber, the librarian rather too engrossed with his aunt in her nursing home, made me burst out laughing at times, as did the detailed description of Igelfeld's fall from the very top of the Devil's Needles to surely certain death.

You have to wait until the very end to find out the unusual use for olive oil, but it is worth the wait.

Speaking of which, please AMS, don't leave it so long for this marvellous character to appear in print once more.

Highly recommended for everyone looking for gentle humour of high quality.
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on 6 November 2011
Hurrah for the return of Professor Doctor Doctor Von Igelfeld! At the very beginning of his writing career, Alexander McCall Smith published three short books on the wonderful Von Igelfeld, a German philology professor from Regensburg, author of the much acclaimed (in very small circles) "Portuguese Irregular Verbs", and his small group of fellow professors. Despite my loving most of McCall Smith's output ever since I have a particularly soft spot for this series (the first three books were later combined in one volume as "The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom"). Von Igelfeld, a single man in his late 40's, lives in a world entirely within the confines of acadaemia. His views on everything are coloured by this and it is wonderful watching him struggling on his forays out into the real world. Just as funny are his battles for recognition and supremacy with fellow professors (Prinzel and Unterholzer) and the splendid jealousies that exist beteeen them. Von Igelfeld has no sense of humour, which makes him highly amusing, believes he is superior to nearly everyone, is tremendously naive, deeply sensitive, highly sincere, and cannot understand why his book does not sell more than two or three copies every six months. Despite his haughtiness it is difficult not to warm to such a unique character and I would urge the author not to leave it another ten years before bringing out the next in the series.
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Unusual Uses for Olive Oil is the fourth novel in the 2½ Pillars of Wisdom series by Alexander McCall Smith. Once again we enter the rarefied atmosphere of the Institute of Romance Philology to see what the author of Portuguese Irregular Verbs, the always pedantic and often socially inept Professor Dr Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is getting up to. Although he is not dissatisfied with his life, his crosses to bear are many: Herr Huber, the boring but loquacious Institute librarian; the condescension of his colleagues regards his unmarried state; the undeserved rise of his rival, Unterholzer; rowdy audiences; loud phone conversations on trains. The Professor finds himself dealing with a possible case of nepotism, anticipating marriage, climbing a mountain, engaged as a motivational speaker and repairing a prosthetic wheel. McCall Smith employs the Professor to muse on many subjects: accepting responsibility for one's actions; keeping confidences; gossip columnists; casual dress; birds used in heraldry; defenestration; the appellation of the wives of academics and writing in code. McCall Smith gives us an entertaining tongue-in-cheek look at the world and demonstrates that wearing moth-eaten clothing can have surprising results. Moritz-Maria's faux pas and naiveté make for many laugh-out-loud moments. A delightful read.
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This could also be entitled "The Book of Hours of Professor Dr. von Igelfield" for its quirky presentation--by episode--of the clueless but pleasant progress of the protagonist professor. While this series is distinctly flavored by the classic ultra-academic environment of a German university, its inmates and their interactions, it has the familiar cadence, preoccupations and observations of Precious Ramotswe and her Botswanan gang that are the focus of the marvelous "First Lady Detective..." stories. That is no criticism even though there are moments in "Unusual Uses for Olive Oil" that you have to remind yourself what continent the action is taking place in.

"Unusual Uses..." presents five gently witty episodes in the life and adventures of the aforesaid von Igelfield (of hedgehog field). The protagonist is an agreeable enough guy with limited social acumen and polish who misreads most of the exchanges he has with colleagues and others. He contrives to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but still manages to come out relatively unscathed by virtue of his basic good intentions. A notable exception in this book is his romantic adventure that starts with promise but goes south permanently when he fails to understand what a promising female prospect's last name actually means.

These are amusing small entertainments, with mostly chuckles provided, and maybe one or two guffaws.
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on 8 April 2013
I had been looking forward to hearing more about Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld. The first three books were so funny! I had hoped that I could buy the audiobook read by Hugh Laurie because his rendering of the accents of the various characters is just perfect. That was not to be so I bought the Kindle version and imagined the sounds in my head.
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on 4 November 2014
The one star reviews of this book are churlish at best. Readers of the silly Ladies Detective Agency might not like Unusual Uses for Olive Oil because it is of different style and features an unusual protagonist. It is a very good little read. The bumbling hero is an academic who lives in an ivory tower and knows virtually nothing about what might be called everyday life. Professor Hedgehog is even of the opinion that the word 'okay' lacks substance and will never stand the test of time.

This is a quirky novel and will most appeal to those who are interested in philology. It's akin to PG Wodehouse in style.
An example of this quirkiness is regarding the use of olive oil in the title. Olive oil is not mentioned until the last few pages and has nothing whatsoever to do with the novel except perhaps that its use to lubricate the wheels on a disabled Dachshund's is unusual, but then so is a Professor of Portuguese Irregular Verbs ;)
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on 17 January 2012
Alexander McCall Smith never disappoints and this latest novel follows the exploits of Von Igelfeld as he seeks to expand his fame as the author of Portugese Irregular Verbs. What a joyful read - I had to ration myself to one chapter a night to make the book last longer. Sheer bliss!
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on 11 July 2013
If you're having trouble getting to sleep at night, this is the perfect book for you. I had not previously read anything by this author and approached the book with an open mind, having read the glowing reviews on Amazon where the book was described as 'gentle humour'. Having seen it through, despite being tempted on several occasions to abandon it, my opinion is that even the term 'gentle humour' is overstating matters somewhat. The action, such as it is, amounts to a few minor faux pas by the main character and an unlikely misunderstanding on a mountain with an even more unlikely outcome. So, if you like your reading undemanding, bland, not to say boring, this book certainly fits the bill. Don't expect a laugh a minute - a smile an hour is nearer the mark.
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on 28 February 2012
This is a welcome sequel to the earlier von Igelfeld series; a long time coming but worth the wait. The characters are pompous but endearing making the novel a quick,pleasant read. You can't really go wrong with AMC.
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