The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (44 Scotland Street Series #5)

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Overview

44 SCOTLAND STREET - Book 5

The residents and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street and the city of Edinburgh come to vivid life in these gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive serial novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.  

Featuring all the quirky characters we have come to know and love, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, finds Bertie, the precocious ...

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The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (44 Scotland Street Series #5)

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Overview

44 SCOTLAND STREET - Book 5

The residents and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street and the city of Edinburgh come to vivid life in these gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive serial novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.  

Featuring all the quirky characters we have come to know and love, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, finds Bertie, the precocious six-year-old, still troubled by his rather overbearing mother, Irene, but seeking his escape in the Cub Scouts. Matthew is rising to the challenge of married life with newfound strength and resolve, while Domenica epitomizes the loneliness of the long-distance intellectual. Cyril, the gold-toothed star of the whole show, succumbs to the kind of romantic temptation that no dog can resist and creates a small problem, or rather six of them, for his friend and owner Angus Lordie.
 
With his customary deftness, Alexander McCall Smith once again brings us an absorbing and entertaining tale of some of Scotland's most quirky and beloved characters--all set in the beautiful, stoic city of Edinburgh.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for the 44 Scotland Street series:
 
"Just about perfect. . . . Contains a healthy helping of McCall Smith's patented charm." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Delightful. . . . Sweet. . . . Graceful. . . . Wonderful. . . . Alexander McCall Smith writes faster than most people read, which is good news for [his] legions of fans who rarely have to go more than a few months without a new fix of his gentle but powerfully addicting fiction."--Entertainment Weekly

"Delightfully charming. . . . McCall Smith's plots offer wit, charm and intrigue in equal doses."--Richmond Times Dispatch

"Entertaining and witty. . . . A sly send-up of society in Edinburgh."--Orlando Sentinel

"Mr. McCall Smith, a fine writer, paints his hometown of Edinburgh as indelibly as he captures the sunniness of Africa. We can almost feel the mists as we tread the cobblestones."--The Dallas Morning News

"Alexander McCall Smith is the most genial of writers and the most gentle of satirists. . . . [The] characters are great fun . . . [and] McCall Smith treats all of them with affection." --Rocky Mountain News

Publishers Weekly
The fifth book in McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series re-visits the quirky characters of a tiny neighborhood of Edinburgh: aging Angus and his dog, young Matthew with his new bride, precocious six-year-old Bertie and his overbearing mother, and others. The dry humor and Wodehousian wit in the descriptions and observations of the eccentric characters give them charm, but the book is a study in ordinary people living ordinary lives, and the narrative is slow paced. Robert Ian Mackenzie's deep, sonorous voice is ideal for the exposition and the voices of the male characters, but that same rich masculine voice is a drawback when used for the dialogue of the female and child characters, who end up sounding stilted and impaired. An Anchor paperback (Reviews, Nov. 9). (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Life goes on, and on in this fifth helping of luminously understated adventures for the denizens of 44 Scotland Street and environs. Edinburgh, reflects improbably wealthy gallery owner Matthew, "was always the same; nothing ever changed." But the cumulative effect of tiny changes day after day is to make the city a different place. Matthew himself is the prime example. He's thrown over adoring employee Pat MacGregor for schoolteacher Elspeth Harmony; their wedding begins Smith's latest cycle of 100 chapters originally serialized in The Scotsman. Dropping Pat as completely as Matthew does, Smith makes it clear during an Australian honeymoon that marriage with Elspeth requires unexpected adjustments. Back home, Matthew's painter friend Angus Lordie must cope with domestic changes of his own, courtesy of his gold-toothed dog Cyril (a challenge that's resolved as abruptly as it arose) and gangster Lard O'Connor, who leaves Angus with what just might be a magically important portrait. Anthropologist Domenica Macdonald plots to recover a Spode cup that friend and neighbor Antonia Collie filched from her flat and finds out more about Antonia than she ever wanted to know. Warmhearted Big Lou Brown, who presides over the Morning After Coffee Bar, plays unwilling hostess to Scotland's most distinguished fugitive. Pat's ex-boyfriend, narcissistic Bruce Anderson, caroms from one undeserved bit of good fortune to the next, only to be stricken by a sudden change of heart. And six-year-old Bertie Pollock, who begs to join the Cub Scouts so he can escape the suffocating attentions of his controlling mother Irene and his vile little schoolmate Olive, meets crime novelist Ian Rankin in a novel role. Theelevated proportion of reminiscences, facts and opinions to incremental new developments suggests that Smith's prodigious invention for gently pointed incidents may be flagging. But no fan of this civilized and civilizing soap opera (The World According to Bertie, 2008, etc.) will want to skip an installment.
Publishers Weekly
The fifth book in McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series re-visits the quirky characters of a tiny neighborhood of Edinburgh: aging Angus and his dog, young Matthew with his new bride, precocious six-year-old Bertie and his overbearing mother, and others. The dry humor and Wodehousian wit in the descriptions and observations of the eccentric characters give them charm, but the book is a study in ordinary people living ordinary lives, and the narrative is slow paced. Robert Ian Mackenzie's deep, sonorous voice is ideal for the exposition and the voices of the male characters, but that same rich masculine voice is a drawback when used for the dialogue of the female and child characters, who end up sounding stilted and impaired. An Anchor paperback (Reviews, Nov. 9). (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307454706
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Series: 44 Scotland Street Series , #5
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 218,060
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics.

Biography

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Love, Marriage and Other Surprises

The wedding took place underneath the Castle, beneath that towering, formidable rock, in a quiet church that was reached from King’s Stables Road. Matthew and Elspeth Harmony had made their way there together, in a marked departure from the normal routine in which the groom arrives first, to be followed by the bride, but only after a carefully timed delay, enough to make the more anxious members of her family look furtively at their watches – and wonder.

    Customs exist to be departed from, declared Matthew. He had pointedly declined to have a stag party with his friends but had nonetheless asked to be included in the hen party that had been organised for Elspeth.

    “Stag parties are dreadful,” he pronounced. “Everybody has too much to drink and the groom is subjected to all sorts of insults. Left without his trousers by the side of the canal and so on. I’ve seen it.”

    “Not always,” said Elspeth. “But it’s up to you, Matthew.”

    She was pleased that he was revealing himself not to be the type to enjoy a raucous male-only party. But this did not mean that Matthew should be allowed to come to her hen party, which was to consist of a dinner at Howie’s restaurant in Bruntsfield, a sober do by comparison with the Bacchanalian scenes which some groups of young women seemed to go in for.

    No, new men might be new men, but they were still men, trapped in that role by simple biology. “I’m sorry, Matthew,” she said. “I don’t think that it’s a good idea at all. The whole point about a hen party is that it’s just for women. If a man were there it would change everything. The conversation would be different, for a start.”

    Matthew wondered what it was that women talked about on such occasions. “Different in what way?” He did not intend to sound peevish, but he did.

    “Just different,” said Elspeth airily. She looked at him with curiosity. “You do realise, Matthew, that men and women talk about rather different things? You do realise that, don’t you?”

    Matthew thought of the conversations he had with his male friends. “I don’t know if there’s all that much difference,” he said. “I talk about the same things with my male and female friends. I don’t make a distinction.”

    “Well, I’m sorry,” said Elspeth. “But the presence of a man would somehow interrupt the current. It’s hard to say why, but it would.”

    So the subject had been left there and Elspeth in due course enjoyed her hen party with seven of her close female friends, while Matthew went off by himself to the Cumberland Bar. There he met Angus Lordie sitting alone with his dog, Cyril.

    “I suppose that this is a sort of stag party for me,” Matthew remarked to Angus.

    Underneath the table, Cyril, who had long wrestled with temptation to bite Matthew’s ankles, suddenly leaned forward and licked them instead.

    “There, you see,” said Angus. “When a dog licks you, it confers a benediction. Cyril understands, you know. That’s his way of saying that he’s going to be sorry to lose you.”

    “But he’s not going to lose me,” protested Matthew. “One doesn’t completely disappear when one gets married.”

    Angus looked at Matthew with his slightly rheumy eyes. “Really? Well, we won’t be seeing much of you here after the event.”

    “We’ll see,” said Matthew. He raised his glass of beer to his lips and looked at Angus. Angus was much older than he was and was unmarried, which meant either that there was some profound reason – lack of interest – or that he had been successful in evading commitment. Now, which of these was it?

    “What about yourself, Angus?” Matthew asked. “Have you ever thought of . . . tying the knot with anybody?”

    Angus smiled. “Nobody would have me, I fear. Nothing would give me greater pleasure, I suspect, but, well, I’ve never really got myself organised.”

    “Of course, you’d need to find somebody capable of taking on Cyril,” said Matthew. “And that wouldn’t be easy.”

    Angus shot Matthew an injured glance and Matthew immediately realised his tactlessness.
 
  “Cyril is a slight problem,” said Angus. “It’s difficult being canine, you see. Lots of women turn their noses up at dogs. Particularly with Cyril being the sort of dog that he is. You know, a wandering eye and some unresolved personal freshness issues. But I wish people would see beyond that.”

    Matthew nodded. Angus would be a task enough for any woman, and to add Cyril to the equation made it even more of a burden.

“What about Domenica?” he asked suddenly. “I’ve always thought that you and she might make a good couple.”

    Angus looked wistfully at the ceiling. “I’ve thought that too,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s much of a chance there. She can’t abide Cyril, you see, and I can hardly get rid of him after all these years. His heart would break.”
 
   “She’d get used to him,” said Matthew. “And dogs don’t last forever.”

    Angus shook his head. “No prospect,” he said. “But let’s not talk about me and my problems. What about the wedding? I hear you’ve got Charlie Robertson to do it for you. I knew him when he was at the Canongate Kirk. He does a nice line in weddings, and Her Majesty used to enjoy his sermons, I gather, when she was in residence at Holyrood. She must have had to listen to an awful lot of wheezy lectures from various archbishops of Canterbury – it must have been so refreshing for her to get a good-going, no-nonsense sermon from somebody like Charlie. You know where you stand with the Church of Scotland, although as an Episcopalian, I must say there’s a certain folksiness . . .”

    “We’re making certain changes,” said Matthew. “We’re walking up the aisle together. And we’re having a reading from Kahlil Gibran. You know, The Prophet. There’s a chapter there about love and commitment.”
 
   Angus began to let out an involuntary groan, but stopped himself. “Sorry,” he said. “Yes. Kahlil Gibran. I see. And the honeymoon?”

    Matthew leaned forward and whispered. “I haven’t told Elspeth. It’s going to be a surprise. Australia!”

    Angus looked into his glass. For some inexplicable reason, he felt a sense of foreboding, as if a sinister angel had passed overhead and briefly looked down upon them, as one of those lumbering heavy bombers, laden with high explosive, may spot a target below – a quiet lane with lovers popular, the innocent going about their business, a farmer driving a truck along a winding lane; irresistible temptations for a sinister angel.

2. By the Side of the Bridal Path

Inside the church, three hundred guests – and a handful of regular members of St. Cuthbert’s, entitled in that capacity to attend any service – sat waiting for the ceremony to begin. Matthew had told Elspeth that she should invite as many friends as she wished. His father was paying for the wedding and had imposed no limits; his own list, Matthew felt, was at risk of being embarrassingly small: a few old friends from school, his father and his new wife, a couple of distant cousins, Angus Lordie, Domenica Macdonald, Big Lou, James Holloway; that was about all.
   
Pat, Matthew’s former girlfriend and occasional employee, had been invited too, and had accepted. Much to Matthew’s relief it appeared that she bore no ill-will towards the woman who had supplanted her in Matthew’s affections; and for her part, Elspeth, by nature, was not one to be jealous. Matthew had reassured her that although he had been serious about Pat, his seriousness had been a mistake; misplaced seriousness, as he described it. “She was really more of a sister,” he said. “I don’t know why I . . .” He left the rest unsaid, and it was not referred to again. So many men might say “I don’t know why I . . .” when talking about the carnal, reflected Elspeth; all men might, in fact.
   
Elspeth had invited everyone in her address book and many who were not. All her colleagues from the Steiner School were there, her suspension having been formally rescinded after the evidence of the other children – prominent among them Tofu – that Olive’s account of the incident in which the teacher had pinched her ear was at the very least confused, and more likely mendacious. But by the time her reputation was cleared she had already resigned, become engaged, and decided not to go back to teaching.
   
As well as Elspeth’s former colleagues, an invitation had been given to all the children in the class she had taught. They were to attend under the supervision of their new teacher, who had led them into the church as a group and taken them to the pews reserved for them up at the top on the left. Here they sat – Merlin, Pansy, Lakshmi, Tofu, Hiawatha and the rest, hair neatly combed, their legs swinging freely, not quite touching the floor, whispering to each other, awed by the solemnity of the occasion and the significance of what was about to happen to their beloved Miss Harmony.
   
“She’ll probably have a baby in a couple of weeks,” said Olive knowingly. “I hope it’s a girl. It’ll be a big tragedy if it’s a boy.”
   
Tofu turned and sneered at her from the pew in front. “Babies take time,” he said, adding, “stupid.”
  
 “What do you know about it?” hissed Olive. “And anyway, no girl would ever marry you. Not in a hundred years.”
   
“You mean that nobody would ever marry you,” retorted Tofu. “They’d take one look at you and be sick.”

    “I’m going to marry Bertie,” said Olive smugly. “He’s already asked me. We’re going to get married when we’re twenty. It’s all settled.”
   
Bertie, who was sitting a couple of places away from Olive heard this remark and froze. “No, Olive, I didn’t say I would,” he protested. “I didn’t.”
  
 Olive glared at him. “You did!” she said. “You promised! Don’t think you can break your promises like that.” She snapped her fingers to demonstrate the speed of Bertie’s broken promises, then looked at him and added, “Especially in a church. God’s really going to hate you, Bertie!”
   
This conversation was interrupted by the organist, who began to play a Bach prelude. Although the congregation was unaware of their presence, Matthew and Elspeth had already arrived and were sitting with Charlie Robertson in the chapel at the back of the church, a small, tucked-away room on the walls of which the names of the fallen were inscribed in lead, equal in death, with no distinction of rank, just men. Matthew, feeling awkward, gazed at the lists of names and thought: they were my age, or younger. Some were seventeen or eighteen, and were only in France or wherever it was for a week or two, days in some cases, before they died in that landscape of explosion and whistling metal. They didn’t have a chance, and now here am I, whose life has been so easy, reading about them and their sacrifice.
   
It was as if Charlie Robertson had read Matthew’s thoughts. “We’ve been very fortunate, haven’t we?” he said. “Being born at the time we were.”
   
Matthew glanced at Elspeth. He reached for her hand.
   
“On a more cheerful note,” said Charlie. “Did you know that it was in this chapel that Agatha Christie got married?”
  
 Matthew showed his surprise. “I would have thought that she would have been married in a sleepy little English village somewhere,” he said. “In one of those places with an extraordinarily high murder rate.”
   
Charlie laughed. “I see what you mean,” he said. “But no. She got married here in Edinburgh. To her archaeologist husband. She said that an archaeologist was an ideal husband, as the older the wife became, the more interested he would be in her.”
  
 Matthew smiled. It was difficult to imagine Agatha Christie as being young; some people were remembered as how they became, rather than how they were; it was something to with names, he thought. Agatha was not a young name. “But didn’t she run away?”
   
“That was earlier,” said Elspeth, who knew something about Agatha Christie. “Her first, dashing husband fell in love with somebody else. So she disappeared, and was eventually found staying at a hotel in Harrogate.”
  
 Charlie Robertson looked at his watch. “Well,” he said. “We should be thinking of starting. Are you two ready?”
   
Matthew rose to his feet. Their conversation, innocent enough, had nevertheless made him think. In getting married, he realised, he was giving a hostage to fortune. By taking Elspeth into his life, the chances that the world would hurt him were doubled. She might leave him; she might run away, like Agatha Christie. There was so much that could go wrong in life if you took on somebody else, and then there were children and all the worries and anxiety they brought. There were so many reasons, he thought, for remaining single.
  
He looked at Elspeth, who was adjusting the veil she had pinned to her hair. I don’t want to hurt you, thought Matthew; that’s the last thing I want. But should I really go through with this? Is it wise?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    terrific slice of Edinburgh

    In Edinburgh six years old Bertie Pollock needs to escape the war between his parents over how to raise their kid. He would like to give them pointers but they are too obtuse with adult power to listen to their child. Instead he decides the cub scouts might be the perfect escape especially from his mom as Irene is stifling (not that he wants to go camping in the woods). Neither of his parents are fond of the idea that their darling wants to join the scouts; for that matter neither is Bertie.

    Meanwhile Cyril the canine has fallen in lust leaving his pet human artist Angus Lordie with six issues to deal with. Newly married Matthew adapts to life with a live in partner as does his wife Elspeth who has no idea how men behave. Finally lonely Domenica remains isolated with in many ways only his intellectual self and Cyril and his new horde to talk with while mumbling that his dog is scoring better than he ever has. As always a torrent in a teacup confront the occupants at of 44 Scotland Street

    This is a terrific slice of Edinburgh as the readers learn more of The World According to Bertie and other residents of 44 Scotland Street. The characters are extremely deep yet cleverly understated. Their wonderful profound stories intertwine into a "Precious" tale as Alexander McCall Smith showcases his Love Over Scotland as much as he has Botswana.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2012

    Need a Wee Bit of Scottish to fully appreciate

    It took me quite awhile to get into the story. You need a bit(or should I say a Wee bit) of Scottish in you to appreciate it fully. I did not like it
    as well as McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency books. There are some
    interesting and memorable characters, but some of it became a wee bit
    tiresome.

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  • Posted January 11, 2012

    Another fantastic read from Mr. Smith!

    You will fall in love with the characters who live on 44 Scottland Street. You will laugh at their antics, feel saddened by their heartbreaks, understand their foibles and feel like you have lived in Edinburgh yourself - right next door to these incrediblely interesting people (and a dog with a gold tooth who winks). Don't miss out on the entire series! And please, Mr. McCall Smith - write another one! Save Bertie!

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Another Fantastic Novel by Alexander McCall Smith

    A continuation of the stories of the lives of the people we have come to know in the series by the author. The people who live, work and play around 44 Scotland Street. Matthew gets married and has a honeymoon he will always remember. Bertie gets a new psychotherapist and also gets to join Cub scouts and Domenica finds her blue spode teacup.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    Thumbs Up. terrific.

    Thumbs up! Great listening, terrific plot.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    Our friends are back

    If you have enjoyed the 44 Scotland Street stories, you will not be disappointed. Mr. McCall Smith's gentle story telling and characters are all there. The story telling makes you feel you are living near these people and cannot help but be involved in their lives.

    I can hardly wait for the next installment.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Smith scores with Scones

    Once again, Alexander McCall Smith gives us a gentle journey in human nature through the lives of his cast of quirky Scottish characters. These folks are unforgettable and their continuing saga is something I look forward to with each new book.

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  • Posted January 31, 2010

    Wanting More

    Each sequence ends in such a way to keep you wanting to read more--of the book and the next sequence.

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