on 6 June 2003
I got this book yesterday, having pre-ordered it, and have already read it. That's some measure of how much I have enjoyed this series and what a pleasure it has been to renew my acquaintance with some of the most endearingly human characters in contemporary fiction. I understand that Michael Ondaatje has set up a new prize for books which particularly evoke a sense of place and I must say I haven't read may writers that give a better flavour of a particular landscape, history and culture. The new book is no exception to this. Botswana - not somewhere I knew much about before - really comes alive: the light, the smells, the courtesy of the people and their hopes and anxieties. It is not often that I laugh aloud at a book, and even less often do I have a tear in my eye, but this one managed both. To write so simply, humorously and movingly about essentially decent human beings is a rare gift. Alexander McCall Smith has certainly enriched my life with this series.
The Full Cupboard of Life is the fifth book in the series that features Mma Precious Ramotswe as the owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. The story features Precious, Mr J.L.B. Maketoni (her fiancé), Mma Makutsi (her assistant and the assistant manager of Mr Maketoni's garage), and Mma Potokwame (the matron of the orphan farm where Mr Maketoni helps out).
If you have not read any books in the series, I suggest that you look instead to begin with the first one (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) and work your way through them in the order of their publication (Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, and The Kalahari Typing School for Men). All of those books are better than this one, and provide helpful context for The Full Cupboard of Life.
The Full Cupboard for Life has one detective case in it. Mma Holonga is a successful entrepreneur who has developed a number of beauty parlors for braiding hair in interesting ways and also has created a special formula for treating the hair for braiding. At 40, she realizes that she lacks a husband and child . . . and decides to at least find a husband. But she doesn't want one who is after her money! So she hires Precious to check out her four suitors, beginning with the one she likes best. The case is delicate because Precious is well known in Botswana as a detective, and must avoid having the suitors realize that she is checking them out for Mma Holonga.
Most of the book, however, focuses on the personal lives of the others. Precious finally asks her fiancé when they will marry, and he answers that it will be a year or two before he can save the money for a large wedding. When she offers to sell some cattle to hasten the happy day, he declines her offer. When will they ever marry?
As usual, Mma Potokwame has plans for Mr J.L.B. Maketoni that will help the orphans. Precious is kept busy helping Mr J.L.B. Maketoni deflect and deal with those plans. In the process, Precious employs some of the classic methods of psychology to influence men to do what she wants them to do.
This book moves further away from the roots of the series. Except for one brief encounter with a snake, wild Africa plays no role in the story. The detective agency is almost an after-thought in the story's development. The one assignment is given as limited a space as is possible.
But Mr. Smith has created some delightful characters, and those who care about the characters will enjoy seeing them move on with their lives.
I hope that in future books Mr. Smith will once again put several detective cases in the story . . . and let wild Africa appear again as a character.
I've read all the Ladies' Detective Agency books, and enjoyed them all, but I agree with the reviewers who thought this was the best one so far. The writing seems to me to be more assured, the characters more rounded, and the plotting more convincing. All in all, a delight - I just wish the book had been twice as long! I do hope it isn't the last in the series as two new characters have been introduced, plus there are the orphans ... would love to know more about them. Keep writing, Mr McCall Smith!
on 27 September 2004
Thank you to Alexander McCall Smith, this was well worth the wait. Rather than losing steam this book gathers a momentum only matched by the very first in the series (which got me hooked). Every chapter takes you to another level and the author manages to do this without keeping you in painful suspense. Almost as if you just happen upon it and then you are so glad you did. I'll say no more. You must read it for yourself. What an ending!! I thought all the great books had been written, and now here I am pining for more. Mr Smith, don't let me wait too long for the next one please.
on 15 January 2006
Precious Ramotswe, Botwana’s No.1 Lady Detective, is usually concerned with other people’s problems and mishaps. She handles these with aplomb, common sense and, sometimes a little pressure… Her usual cheerfulness is rarely put to the test. Yet, when it comes to difficulties in her own life, she is not so well prepared. She has, after all, a position to maintain and this limits her options. Mma Makutsi is her junior in the agency, which makes her unsuitable as a confidante. And Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, she feels, has enough on his plate already to be burdened with more. On one of her regular visits with Mma Potokwani, the pushy matron of the orphan farm to “just sit and talk”, she is advised of the reappearance of somebody from her past. Calamity looms for her and her new marriage.
This latest, sixth, instalment of the delightful series, brings us more of life’s ups and downs of the small community of Precious’ family and friends. Charlie, the young apprentice, seems to be getting into trouble. A minor accident with the tiny white van brings a surprisingly interesting new character into the circle, Mr Polopetsi. He turns out to be quite an asset, quietly working away, and even assisting Mma Ramotswe with her private problems. The white van breaks down, then disappears, leaving Mma Ramotswe in disarray. In the meantime, Mma Makutsi moves into new circles, and takes exploratory steps towards a new life – literally with new shoes.
McCall Smith has a unique style that wraps around the reader like a comforting blanket. We follow the flow and participate in the daily routines and any disruptions of them. McCall Smith’s main subject of interest of this as it was in his previous instalments, are the people. The surroundings are beautifully described as a backdrop. With each episode we learn more about the main characters. New aspects are revealed about their personalities that we did not see before. We think we can imagine what might happen next but then, life has its own ways to proceed, often with unexpected results. When, please, is the next instalment? [Friederike Knabe]
In his fifth novel about the #1 Ladies Detective Agency, run by Mma Precious Ramotswe, author Alexander McCall Smith presents the full cupboard of Botswana life in all its richness. For Mma Ramotswe, people and their relationships are paramount, and she believes that these relationships are facilitated by Botswana's traditional code of behavior, with its customs of greetings, sitting down together, drinking bush tea, and casually talking around a subject, rather than addressing it aggressively. Life is a rich, full, and happy experience for Mma Ramotswe, who can find out everything she wants to know from her broad network of family and friends. Engaged to the good-hearted Mr. J.L.B. Matakone, who has not yet set a date for a wedding, she helps him surreptitiously with his problems and cooks and cares for the two orphans he has taken into his home.
In this novel, full of gentle humor and wisdom, Mma Ramotswe and her friends face several "difficult" problems: A woman who has made a fortune establishing hair-braiding salons hires Mma Ramotswe to find out whether her suitors want to marry her for her money. Mr. J.L.B. Matakone finds himself tricked into "volunteering" to do a parachute jump, in order to raise money for the Orphan Farm run by the intrepid Mma Potokwane, who refuses to take no for an answer. He is also disturbed to discover that First Class Motors, a rival garage, has sold improper parts and failed to service a classic old Range Rover correctly, and he has been procrastinating about confronting the garage owner or reporting him to authorities. Mma Makutsi, the assistant at the detective agency, has been so successful running the Kalahari Typing School for Men at night, that her dream of renting her own house has now come true, and Mma Ramotswe is helping her to furnish all two rooms.
With an obvious lack of exciting plot lines, the reader focuses completely on the characters-- beautifully drawn, sometimes flawed, and always forgiven their faults. In a leisurely pace, McCall Smith recreates the colorful everyday lives of these ordinary people, who treasure friendships, treat each other with respect, and possess inherent good sense. Honoring the values that contemporary readers sometimes do not take the time to preserve, McCall Smith portrays complex social relationships in very simple and direct prose. Warm, gently humorous, and loving, McCall Smith creates a kind of vicarious nostalgia for this way of life, a nostalgia which readers will continue to indulge and treasure as the series continues. Mary Whipple
on 13 September 2004
Mma Ramotswe, the lady detective with a 'traditional' figure, continues to enchant and reward In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. I had worried McCall Smith might begin to run out of steam, or at least material, but this is definitely one of the strongest books in an enchanting series. The pleasure I get from reading these gently seductive books is unrivalled - the world of Precious Ramotswe and JLB Maketoni is entirely beguiling and wholly persuasive. I've become somewhat evangelical on the subject and keep pressing the books onto sundry passers-by and relatives with birthdays. If any of you are newcomers to the series - go back to the start and read them all.
Lovely, lovely, lovely.
on 29 August 2004
This is by far the best of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective series. As with the others, the author paints a warm portrait of the Botswanan people, often with insightful yet humorous observations.
In this book Mma Makutsi exerts more individual traits, such as insisting on drinking "ordinary tea" rather than bush tea, and questioning Mma Ramotswe's quotes from her father or other famous politicians. But she also puts to use the detective traits and psychology that she has learned from Mma Ramotswe to solve a problem or two. In this regard she also resolves a difficult situation by following Mma Ramotswe's way of dealing with it.
In this book, Mma Ramotswe encounters some mysteries and a not-so-small problem surrounding herself. When the latter happens, she gets affected by it and so does her better judgement. Can she resolve this by herself?
Other old friends appear as well: Mma Potokwane, Rra Matekoni, the adopted children, and the apprentices. Mma Potokwane is portrayed as a wise and determined matron whose pushiness serves not herself but the orphans. This has put her in considerable better light than in the previous books. (Or may be I'm more accustomed to her ways?)
This is the quintessential book of the series. The author weaves his observation of human failings as well as the essential goodness through the various characters. It portrays Botswana with its traditional values and those inevitable as the country changes through modernization and global economy.
I like the way the book ends, which wraps up many threads. But I fear also that this may be the end of the series. I hope this isn't the case, as I've come to view Mma Ramotswe and those around her as friends I've come to know and love.
on 29 August 2004
I have waited a year for Mr McCall Smith's next Botswanan masterpiece and it was well worth the wait!
All our favourite characters are doing what they do best in this wonderful book and new characters are woven seamlessly into the story.
I have savoured every page and will not spoil it by giving away the plot. Fans will appreciate this is a book which makes you feel as if you have come home and you want to enjoy every moment. The synopsis is a good taster but the fun is in the finding out.
The beauty and warmth of Botswana and her people shine through as in the previous five books and makes you feel like jumping on a plane and experiencing it first hand.
Can Mr J.L.B.Matekoni arrange hire cars? When I get there I'll search out Tlokweng Road Speedy motors and find out!!!!!
on 15 April 2005
If you have followed the development of the characters in this charming series of books, you will not be disappointed with this latest addition to the collection. I think it's important to read the books in order.
It's so easy to settle back in to the rhythm of Mma Ramotswe's life in Gaborone and somehow you immediately feel as though you are actually there watching everything take place in front of you. This book concentrates more on the characters, their relationships rather than the detective work and much more so on the personal issues they confront - but this is certainly no bad thing and makes for fascinating reading. The characters have such a sure and positive outlook.
As usual Mr Mcall Smith has a great feel for dialogue and Botswana - all underpinned by a delightful and characteristic lightness of touch. I wrote a positive review of the first book in this series for Amazon some time back and am not surprised at all that these books have become such a great success.