31 December, 2007

'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' - Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith achieves a rare thing in modern literature: a writing style that is both intellectual and diverting. The Ladies' Detective Agency has moments of extraordinary, deadpan humour but also philosophises on the nature of what makes us happy and contented. Death and abuse are also encountered, but with reality rather than sensationalism. That reality is also applied to the imagery of Botswana, which threads through the novel as an extra character.

There is a notable rhythm to the words in the novel which allow the reader to hear them with the undulations of an African accent. There are also interesting perspective switches: the novel is primarily told through the eyes and thoughts of Mme Ramotswe but every so often, when necessary, a different character is given the first person, or the third person focus. This isn't cumbersome, rather it simply provides the reader with the imagery and information they need to fully appreciate the story. There is an insousiance to the chapter headings (for example, 'Mma Ramotswe Thinks about the Land while Driving her Tiny White Van to Francistown) that puts me in mind of A.A.Milne. Similarly, when discussing the novel with a friend, we came up with the word 'comfy' to describe the writing style: it is not only accessible, but particularly welcoming and comforting.

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