Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

I have been in quite a slump recently when it comes to reading, and so when I found out this book was waiting for me at the library on Saturday I was hoping it would be just the thing I needed. In many ways, Blue Shoes and Happiness did not disappoint; it was lovely to be back with all the familiar characters, and to learn more about the small but satisfying triumphs of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. These books are relaxing and undemanding reading. They won't win any prizes for great literature, but they have a way of drawing you in irresistibly with their quirky fluffiness.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that Blue Shoes and Happiness grabbed me in quite the same way as many previous installments in this series. I can't quite put my finger on what was "off" about this book. Maybe it was just a bit too formulaic, maybe the author was trying too hard, I don't quite know. All I can say is that many of the things that I found appealing in previous No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books just didn't quite work this time around. I wonder if Mr McCall Smith is getting tired of his characters; at times he almost seemed to be mocking them, and the character development this time around was pretty much nil. I was also disappointed that he seemed to need to knock me over the head with his message about how lovely Africa and the African people are; in past books, this was made clear through loving descriptions of the landscape and through the behaviour (and, occasionally, the internal monologues) of the people themselves. This time, that subtlety was gone, which had the effect for me of making the country and its people less charming.

Overall, then, this wasn't *quite* what I needed to get me out of my slump... but I will keep looking for that book.

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