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on 25 April 2007
When this book came into my hands, I have to admit I didn't think I was going to like it. Given that my only knowledge of the author had to do with a series of novels revolving around an African detective agency for women (or thereabouts)- I guess I was expecting a flight of fancy through Edinburgh, with no real meat to it.

I couln't have been more wrong. This book is a wittily observed journey through the lives and thoughts of five or six of the best realised characters I've come across in modern fiction.

The narcissistic Bruce, fantastically pretentious Irene and perpetually befuddled Matthew are among my favourites, but I think there's definitely someone for everyone in this book.

I can foresee a potential negative for some people coming to this book expecting a great saga. Because of the way in which it was written (Smith submitted a chapter a day to The Scotsman newspaper for 110 days), the story flits around and just as a particular line gets some legs, you find yourself focused on something totally different.

For those who like books with a long, developed plot line and deeply winding subplots, this book may feel like dealing with a hyperactive child. However, if you like dry, well realised humour with a good pace and excellent characters, then this will make a great read.

I'm certainly interested enough to hunt down the two sequels. Well done, Mr Smith, you've converted another fan.
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on 9 March 2005
This book is wonderful, and everything you would expect from Alexander McCall Smith at his top form. The characters are engaging and intriguing, and the style of the book keeps you turning the pages. The format is slightly unusual - as this book was originally a daily column in a Scottish newspaper. It means each chapter is v.brief but very contained. The stories are centred round the residents of a house in Edingburgh, and offer slices of life from a variety of characters who lives overlap.
Incidently, he notes at the beginning that the idea for this book was born at a party hosted by Amy Tan, and in conversation with Armistad Maupin - for me that was recommendation enough!
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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2006
44 Scotland Street is little gem. It's a revival of the neglected genre of the serial novel, written - like Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City - to appear regularly in a newspaper. Yes, there are loose ends and some characters are little more than sketches, but given the virtual impossibility of producing a structurally polished novel when it is (as McCall Smith points out in his introduction) impossible to go back and make revisions, and the pressure is on to produce a daily episode for publication.
Insufferably pushy mothers, Conservative party stalwarts who would rather go ahead with just six participants than cancel a ball, narcissistic young men devoted to their hair gel ... the lighthearted sketchiness of these characters is what makes it permissable to laugh at them. The real heart of the book, however, lies in those characters who are wistfully chasing after what they cannot have - Big Lou, who has lived a life without love; Pat, with her misplaced infatuation; Matthew, who cannot seem to find his place in life; and poor 5-year-old Bertie (I wish I knew if he is ever to be free from having to speak Italian).
Read, enjoy, don't take it too seriously.
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VINE VOICEon 14 November 2006
This book is the story of the occupants of 44 Scotland Street, a traditional Edinburgh New Town (the posh Georgian bit) residence divided into multiple flats. The inhabitants are all very well-to-do, exactly as would be expected in this neighbourhood, and are based on character types that are instantly recognisable by anyone who knows middle-class Edinburgh. The characters are generally unburdened by the depressing reality of real life, spending their time in art galleries, fashionable bars and the floatarium, and this creates a wonderful feeling of escapism for the reader. While most of us ponder mundane questions like 'What am I going to have for tea tonight?' and 'What's on TV?', the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street are constantly engaged in philosophical thoughts (very much in the style of Mma Ramotswe in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency).

The goings-on are extremely funny. I loved the strand featuring prodigious pre-schooler Bertie and his monstrously misguided mother, Irene, who puts Bertie into therapy after he defaces his nursery school with Italian graffiti. Also the plot concerning the Conservative Party ball, attended by just six people (all frightful), and involving the stealing of pants to go under a kilt and misappropriation of raffle prizes, was hilarious.

This book really reminded me of Tales of the City (without the sex) and when I had finished it I read the preface and discovered that Tales of the City had indeed inspired the original serial in the Scotsman newspaper. An easy, funny and highly entertaining read.
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Alexander McCall Smith has helped recreate the daily serialized newspaper-published novel with 44 Scotland Street. In 110 tasty snippets, he introduces vast numbers of memorable characters, expands the action, provides 109 cliff hangers and deliciously complicates the plot. With a spare style and a twinkle in his eye, the author gives us plenty to chuckle about in unveiling the pretensions of the self-congratulatory urbanized upper crust.
Pat is taking a second year off from her college studies. The first year off didn't work quite as she had hoped. Pat is delighted to find a flat she can share with the handsome, if self-absorbed, Bruce, and two perpetually missing flat mates. She quickly finds a job working in an art gallery where the owner, Chris, knows even less about what he's doing than she does. On the same floor in her building is a delightful older woman, Domenica, who knows where all the bodies are buried. Through the walls, Pat can hear little Bertie practicing his saxophone for his mother, Irene . . . who's obsessed with having her son become a civilized genius. Bertie has other ideas.
The cast of characters is soon off on a mad-cap scramble through life whose continuing plot thread is a painting that just might be valuable . . . if only someone can figure out who painted it . . . and where it is. Along the way, lust rears its powerful chemistry and Pat learns to tell the good guys from the bad.
The story reminded me very much of the best of Maeve Binchy's novels about modern Dublin. 44 Scotland Street has the advantage over Ms. Binchy because Alexander McCall Smith is able to deftly develop his story so rapidly with sure visual pictures while bringing out the humor . . . rather than the painful melodrama . . . in everyday living.
I found myself roaring with laughter throughout the book. There's lots of use of psychiatry to develop the humor. I thought that the scenes with Irene and Bertie's analyst were irresitible! I didn't know that you could have so much fun while sober in Scotland.
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Alexander McCall Smith has helped recreate the daily serialized newspaper-published novel with 44 Scotland Street. In 110 tasty snippets, he introduces vast numbers of memorable characters, expands the action, provides 109 cliff hangers and deliciously complicates the plot. With a spare style and a twinkle in his eye, the author gives us plenty to chuckle about in unveiling the pretensions of the self-congratulatory urbanized upper crust.
Pat is taking a second year off from her college studies. The first year off didn't work quite as she had hoped. Pat is delighted to find a flat she can share with the handsome, if self-absorbed, Bruce, and two perpetually missing flat mates. She quickly finds a job working in an art gallery where the owner, Chris, knows even less about what he's doing than she does. On the same floor in her building is a delightful older woman, Domenica, who knows where all the bodies are buried. Through the walls, Pat can hear little Bertie practicing his saxophone for his mother, Irene . . . who's obsessed with having her son become a civilized genius. Bertie has other ideas.
The cast of characters is soon off on a mad-cap scramble through life whose continuing plot thread is a painting that just might be valuable . . . if only someone can figure out who painted it . . . and where it is. Along the way, lust rears its powerful chemistry and Pat learns to tell the good guys from the bad.
The story reminded me very much of the best of Maeve Binchy's novels about modern Dublin. 44 Scotland Street has the advantage over Ms. Binchy because Alexander McCall Smith is able to deftly develop his story so rapidly with sure visual pictures while bringing out the humor . . . rather than the painful melodrama . . . in everyday living.
I found myself roaring with laughter throughout the book. There's lots of use of psychiatry to develop the humor. I thought that the scenes with Irene and Bertie's analyst were irresitible! I didn't know that you could have so much fun while sober in Scotland.
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on 13 January 2016
The 44 Scotland Street series of books are absolute gems. Alexander McCall Smith's writing is witty, touching and intelligent. You'll take the characters to your heart. Anyone who has been to Edinburgh will see many of the places they know described beautifully. If you read this first book and enjoy it, you'll be hooked to the rest of the series and reading them is like catching up with old friends.
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2006
I enjoyed 44 Scotland Street (eventually) and 3.5 stars is possibly a fairer evaluation. The story is a sort of soap opera set in Edinburgh and is gently satiric in the author's droll style. I really warmed to some of the characters, mainly the obnoxious, arrogant narcissus Bruce (brilliant) and the lovelorn Pat. Irene is also a funny creation, the new age parent whose life (and that of her poor son Bertie) is ruled by an educational psychology book. Others I found less convincing eg Domenica - were they just ciphers to move the plot on? and Bertie is not a realistic portrayal. Other things that prevented me giving this a higher rating were:
- some passages are obvious filler, and some episodes go on too long - eg the Conservative Dance Ball
- there were some loose ends that I presume WILL be resolved but wasted time in this volume - Lizzie and her parents, Domenica's complex history, the "borrowed" underpants, the underground tunnel, the painting that Pat buys in the Charity Shop, Matthew's friends at Big Lou's, Big Lou etc.....
- it is very slow to get going
- there are lots of in jokes and topical references about Scottish manners, places and people - Ian Rankin, The Braids etc
So, don't expect a Dickens, this is a pleasantly entertaining, middle class soap opera with potential. I will read Espresso Tales to see if it is realised.
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on 18 August 2006
I thought this was a really good book anyway, but having lived in Edinburgh for four years I loved it. It makes a difference when you can recognise every place name and every description. One of my old uni societies, Savoy Opera Group, even made its way into the book - although annoyingly as a negative side of one of the characters (its much better than that really). Aside from that, I found this book addictive. The characters may not be that deep, but they are fun and interesting. The pace of the novel is consistent, and once you start reading it you can't put it down. I think I finished it in two days. I've read the sequel, which isn't as good as the first one, but it resolves some of the problems, like character depth, and I can't wait to read the third.
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on 22 August 2005
Reading 44 Scotland Street is like sitting in warm bath. The world that Alexander McCall Smith portrays is safe and cosy and whilst the story bubbles along at a reasonably sedate pace it is by no means dull. Written originally as a serial for a newspaper the story doesn't suffer from this in any way and McCall Smith has not constructed the novel with a series of contrived cliff hangers but yet you are always left wanting more.
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