Book Quote:

“I’m settling down at last. And what a way to settle: money, flat, Porsche, sexy-looking woman who thinks I’m the best thing ever—and who can blame her? All on a plate. All there before me for the taking. And I have taken it.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Guy Savage (APR 1, 2011)

We read for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons frequently cited is that books offer an “escape.” How true that is, and books, of course, offer a variety of escapes. There’s the thrill of adventure and romance, and the infinite worlds of science fiction. But there’s another escape too–an escape into a simpler, cozier world in which, if the truth is told, the lives of some fictional characters seem enviable.

And this brings me to Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. Smith, the author of the phenomenally successful series: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency was inspired to write a series of tales set in his native Scotland following a trip to San Francisco and a discussion with author Armistead Maupin about his novel, Tales of the City. Upon returning to Scotland, Smith began writing 44 Scotland Street which appeared in serial form in The Scotsman. Writing approximately 1000 words a day, Smith’s Scotland Street series developed and blossomed with 44 Scotland Street, followed by Espresso Tales, Love Over Scotland, The World According to Bertie and now the fifth novel in the series: The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. In the Scotland Street series, we are introduced to a group of people whose lives are intertwined in a number of ways. These delightful novels possess both a comfortable and comforting old-fashioned feel, a certain coziness, and while the novels occasionally border on the twee, for the most part, reading about these characters is sheer delight. As we follow the trials and tribulations of the various characters, we become increasingly involved with the fictional dramas and traumas–never anything too bleak or dreadful, and always handled with a wonderful sense of humor and a profound generosity towards the human condition.

Here are some of the characters from The Unbearable Lightness of Scones:

There’s ex-school-teacher Elspeth and gallery owner Matthew whose fancy wedding and expensive reception is followed by a honeymoon to Australia.

There’s Bertie, a six-year-old boy whose domineering, politically-correct, frustrated mother suffocates the boy with Italian lessons, Yoga, and psychotherapy. Meanwhile Bertie is plagued by the unwanted attentions of his classmate Olive. Bertie’s goal in life is to be a boy scout—much to the horror of his mother:

“You see, Bertie, the problem is that these organizations appeal to a very primitive urge in boys. They make them want to pretend to be little hunters. They make them want to join together and exclude other people. They make them want to get dressed up in ridiculous uniforms, like Fascisti. That’s why Mummy thinks they’re a bad idea.”

Then there’s the “persistent narcissist” Bruce Anderson who’s engaged to the wealthy heiress Julia Donald. Bruce discovers his first wrinkle in the course of the story, but he’s destined for bigger shocks than that. Bruce, by the way, is one of my favorite characters. Here’s Bruce watching his girlfriend:

“But all of this material comfort was topped by having Julia herself. In the earlier days of their relationship, Bruce wondered how he would possibly be able to bear her vacuousness and her simpering. He had gritted his teeth when she called him Brucie, and when she insisted on sharing the shower with him. Of course, she’s mad about me, he told himself. That was understandable—women just were. But I wish she’d give me a bit more room. You can’t have somebody stroking you all the time, as if you were a domestic cat.”

What’s so nice about the novel is that there’s a wide range of characters. For example, on the other end of the economic spectrum there’s artist Angus and his dog, Cyril, Big Lou, owner of the Morning After coffee bar and her Jacobite plasterer boyfriend Robbie, and burly, shady ex-con, Lard O’Connor.

The chapters move back and forth in-between characters and points-of-view, blending storylines as the book develops. In many ways, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones reminds me of the Cranford tales by Elizabeth Gaskell. There are similarities: a small Victorian village in which a major drama erupts involving a lost cow, and in Edinburgh, skullduggery occurs over the high treachery of a missing blue Spode tea-cup.

The Scotland Street books are delightfully reassuring, and it’s no wonder that Alexander McCall Smith’s novels are so phenomenally successful. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones is recommended for those who enjoy the coziness of reading about the small, safe details of characters’ lives. There are no civil wars here, no terrorism. Most of our lives are spent on the petty details and the mundane moments, and so it is in The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, but here daily life is also laced with laugh-out loud humor and a very welcome whimsy.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 57 readers
PUBLISHER: Anchor; 1 edition (January 12, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Alexander McCall Smith
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Lots!  Read reviews of


The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series:

44 Scotland Street

Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series:

Isabel Dalhousie Mystery:

Children’s Books:


  • The Criminal Law of Botswana
  • Changing People: The Law and Ethics of Behavior Modification (1994)
  • Health Resources and the Law (1994)
  • Forensic Aspects of Sleep (1997)

Movies from books:

April 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Humorous, Sleuths Series, United Kingdom

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