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44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith

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Author: Alexander McCall Smith / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 11 August 2005 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: 44 Scotland Street / ISBN 13: 9780349118970 / ISBN 10: 0349118970

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      21.06.2011 22:02
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      The first of the 44 Scotland Street series

      Meet the residents of Edinburgh's 44 Scotland Street...

      On the top floor lives Bruce. A narcissistic young man, Bruce thinks of nothing but himself...and how good looking and just generally brilliant he is. He's working as a chartered surveyor, and has just got a new flatmate, 20 year old Pat...

      Pat is doing a second gap year, dithering about what she wants from life. She has just started working at an art gallery, with a boss Matthew who never fails to surprise her with his lack of knowledge about art. She has taken the spare room at Bruce's place despite the fact it was left in a fairly grotty condition by the previous occupant. Although Bruce is self obsessed and doesn't always have much time for Pat, Pat is shocked to find herself having feelings for him.

      Across the hall is Domenica, a lady in her sixties who befriends Pat, and although she's on the whole quite a mysterious character, and only as the book progresses does she begin to slowly reveal snippets of information about her life.

      Downstairs are Irene and husband Stuart. They are parents to five year old Bertie. Bertie is a child that Irene sees as 'gifted'. Thanks to his pushy parents, this five year old plays the saxophone, speaks Italian and reads the newspaper. All Bertie wants though, is to play with train sets like other little boys. Not getting through to his parents he decides to attract attention by covering the toilet walls with derogatory graffiti (in Italian of course) about his teacher, and sets fire to his fathers Guardian...while he's reading it!

      It's hard to describe the actual plotline of this book, as really it's more like observations of the day to day lives of the middle classes of Edinburgh, rather than being a dramatic and engrossing story. After introductions and observations have been made on all of number 44's residents, the actual plot does pick up a little with Pat discovering a painting in Matthew's gallery that she believes to be very valuable.

      What really makes the book is the characters, as this is very much a character based novel. Bruce was infuriating to read about at times, his self obsession, vanity and lack of tact when it came to Pat made him a character that I loved to hate! Pat herself was likeable but not a stand out character for me, and nor was Domenica who I found a little bland. There are several follow up books to this one, and I hope in those we learn a bit more about her, because I felt I didn't know enough about her to really form much of an opinion!

      By far my favourite characters are Irene and Bertie. Irene is fabulously observed as the pushy mother. I'm sure most people will know at least one parent who insists on pushing their child with a crazy schedule or boasting how fabulous their child is, and I did find these sections incredibly funny. Bertie's rebellion is also rather humorous, but at the same time really sad, as you can't help but feel for the child.

      The book is set in Edinburgh, a place I love, and there are certain little quirks about the city that you will probably recognise if you live there, or like me visit often.

      44 Scotland Street was first serialised in The Scotsman newspaper, so the chapters are all very short - around 2-3 pages each, which makes it ideal for dipping in and out of. This book goes at quite a gentle pace, and I imagine that this style of writing could make it a love it/hate it sort of book. Personally I really liked it, despite not being the sort of thing I'd usually read. McCall Smith has a dry sense of humour, but it's his shrewd observations on modern life that make the characters so readable. I will definitely read the follow up books, and I'd recommend this one.

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        17.12.2010 12:12
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        Stories about the inhabitants of 4 flats in Scotland street.

        Alexander McCall Smith author of the Best selling No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has shown he can write as well about his native Edinburgh as he can about Botswana.

        Written originally as a serial for the Scotsman newspaper this book is excellent to read a chapter and put it down for another day - if you can that is! I read it on holiday and found it difficult to put down.

        The story starts as Pat rings the door bell at No 44 Scotland Street, where she is going to look at a shared flat and be looked at! Will it be suitable, will she be suitable, and what will her flatmates be like? The door was in need of paint and not as "posh" as some in nearby streets, Drummond Place was mentioned and as we had friends living there when we first moved to Scotland 40+ years ago I immediately could picture the building, the large windows and concrete stairs, the high ceilings and big rooms and the shared garden in the centre with a locked gate. This was the edge of the Bohemian part of Edinburgh and you can look forward to meeting a wonderful assortment of people. Pat was on her second gap year, supported by loving and wealthy parents, but she was going to start work at a Gallery the following week. Bruce Anderson, a surveyor with a firm run by Gordon and Raeburn Todd, thinks he's God's gift to women and is the only flat mate there, shows her the room and agrees to let it out. As she leaves the flat she meets another person who has a flat in 44 Scotland Street - Domenica MacDonald, a middle aged lady who becomes quite friendly with Pat and has had quite an exciting life in India.

        The gallery where Pat was going to work is run by Matthew Duncan, whose father despaired that his son would ever become a business man. He went every day for coffee at Big Lou's coffee bar where he was joined each morning by Ronnie and his friend Pete who were furniture restorers.

        In another flat lived a young boy called Bertie with his parents, we learn a lot about the life of poor little Bertie whose mother Irene and father Stuart push him to the extreme.

        Living in the fourth flat in the building was Tim and Jamie, Jamie loved a girl who had gone to Canada for a year and Tim was rather attached to Jamie. Domenica introduces Pat to Angus Lordie, a portrait painter who lives nearby in Drummond Place and who has a dog with a taste for beer and a gold tooth!

        To learn how Bertie gets on at Nursery school, a date that Pat goes on, and does she find a famous painting at the Gallery and what happens to it? The story behind Big Lou and her coffee bar. An invitation to a ball for Bruce with his boss and family at a hotel we pass when we visit my daughter, will he enjoy it? An exciting walk in a tunnel under the houses and roads in Edinburgh and what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt, then you will need to read the book for yourself and find out lots more too.

        This must have kept the readers of the Scotsman desperate to get the next day's edition. 326 pages with delightful illustrations in black and white by Iain McIntosh, this paperback originally cost £7.99 but can be purchased much cheaper if you do some online research. I laughed out loud in places, felt sad in others but enjoyed the clear picture painted by Alexander McCall Smith of Edinburgh and some of the inhabitants in and around Scotland Street. I think it would be a book people would enjoy even if they had no knowledge of Edinburgh, but it made it even better for me. He has a great way with words and keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. A story about a wonderful mix of people, some we may even imagine we can recognise!
        Why not buy it to give to a friend or for yourself to enjoy over the festive holiday.

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          16.11.2009 10:37
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          A light hearted read

          Take one house, and a pocket full of characters who all rent rooms in the house. The house in number 44 Scotland Street, situated in a rather bohemian part of Edinburgh's New Town. The characters are a real mixture of society, often pushing the boundaries of the word 'norm' to the extreme. It is the principal characters which reside in the house, but along the way other characters are introduced and cultivated, to produce an interesting and enjoyable novel called 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith.

          The story is more like an number of interlocking short stories. Firstly there is Pat, a 21 year old student who is on her second gap year. She seems lost in love (with the dreaded Bruce) and unable to make any positive decisions regarding her future. Her room mate is Bruce, the rugby loving, women using, self adoring, selfish surveyor. Then there is Bertie, a 6 year old child prodigy, who can speak Italian and play the saxophone, and decides to rebel against his extremely pushy parents. Irene is Bertie's mother, who wears blinkers, and cannot see that her child just wants to a 'normal' boy and play like other youngsters.

          These are just some of the extraordinary characters, that each have a funny and wonderful story to tell. The book is amusing as lots of entertaining and comical events occur. One of my favourite scenes was when poor old Bruce forgot to put his underwear on (whilst wearing a kilt) when attending the annual Conservative Ball with his boss. He was almost caught out, both without underwear, and then when trying to 'borrow' a pair of his bosses briefs from their laundry room! A cringeworthy situation, which made me have pity for this awful self loving character. The book is full of these witty situations, and some are quite realistic which have a real chance of occurring.

          Most people would have heard of the author, the very well known Alexander McCall Smith. Made primarily famous from the No 1 Lady's Detective Agency series, he has expanded his talents and written children's books as well as novels based in Scotland. 44 Scotland Street was actually first published as a serial for The Scotsman Newspaper. A chapter was published every weekday for six months. It was after this that the book was formed, with a whopping 110 chapters. But don't be alarmed, these chapters are very short (2 - 3 pages), and a delight to read. I actually enjoy short chapters, as I know I can easily reach a good 'end' point when I've run out of reading time.

          Within each chapter the story focuses on one main character and their entertaining story. Sometimes their lives do intertwine. One character will take up approximately three consecutive chapters and then the novel moves on to another scenario. I enjoyed this type of format, and as a busy person found the book easy to manage and easy to keep track of.

          44 Scotland Street is not a thriller, a horror, a romance or a chicklit. It is, shall we say, a novel following the lives of the various characters. It has been said that McCall Smith was inspired by Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City'. I have to agree, as it also reminded me, both in style and format of the fabulous Tales in the City series (which I adored). However, McCall Smith's novel is far more 'tame' in comparison to the riskier Maupin's.

          McCall Smith has used a very simple concept to write a series of novels. Many an author would fail, as it could be an extremely boring and tedious format. The way it is written is not only a life study but it is also done in an amusing manner. I enjoyed the book, and I am definitely going to read the next in the series. I can understand why some would find this type of novel pointless, as it fails to present the traditional objective of a book, introduction, main novel and a hopefully thrilling conclusion. However, it is the individuality that partly appealed to me, plus the intelligent humour and wit that is evident throughout the novel.

          If you decide to read this novel, keep in mind that it is completely different to his infamous No1 Ladies Detective Agency Collection. I did not know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised. It is an easy, funny, enjoyable read.


          44 Scotland Street is published by Abacus
          Number of pages 326
          ISBN 978-0-349-11897-0

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            01.08.2009 17:11
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            I'm not the worlds biggest crime reader. Police officers, and tired out detectives aren't usually featured on my books to read list. The closest this book came to approaching some kind of crime was a shop being broken into, and even then it was only worth about 2 pages. Yet for some unknown reason without even reading or picking it up I thought that it involved all kinds of criminal activity. Anyhow I was stuck for something to read, saw this on the shelf and whad'ya know I was pleasantly surprised!

            Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe and was educated there before moving to Scotland, studying law at the University of Edinburgh. Since becoming a Professor of medical law he has gone onto writing over 30 novels, ranging from childrens storys, academic works, short stories and books for older readers.

            44 Scotland Street is book number one of a series and was first published in a magazine over a period of several weeks. Turned into a paperback edition in 2005 it has gained popularity over the years, explaining why a one off novel managed to create 4 other books surrounding the characters.

            The book starts off with being introduced to Pat, in her 20s she is now on her second gap year and has decided to break away from her parents and move out. Managing to secure herself a job in a gallery, working alongside a rich but pretty useless man who knows nothing about art isn't exactly ideal but discovering what one of her flatmates is like is a lot less appealing.

            This book isn't all featured on Pat though, it's based on the other tennants of the building as well, revealing little parts of their lives and what they like to keep hidden behind closed doors. Parents who are obsessed with having their 5 year old son not enjoy the things which little boys would normally like to take part in. A man who lives in the basement, never showing his face. A woman who lives alone but has a lot to share with anyone who'll listen and then Bruce, Pats narcissistic, self loving, rugy playing flatmate.

            There isn't really any underlying plot behind this book as it features little bits of the buildings tennants lives which don't tend to mingle with anybody elses. It's more of a collection of short stories all pulled together because of the flat.

            In total there are 14 characters to contend with, although 6 of them are only minor roles there is enough mention of them to make you a bit confused as to who they are and what they have to do with anybody. This includes a winking dog with a gold tooth which belongs to a man who doesn't come into the story till right near the end.

            It has been described as being 'a book of gentle yet comic genius' which I suppose I can agree with. When novels say somewhere on the cover at how laugh out loud, and side splittingly funny it is usually I turn away. In the majority of cases these are just words which mean nothing, where the book struggles to reach any amount of humour whatsoever. In this case though it produced a worthy amount of smiling which is worth pointing out as I rarely find books funny

            It was interesting because it was able for me to look at a character and then be reminded of somebody I knew who seemed to show the same type of personality, something which doesn't happen all that often.

            Containing small signs of romance, the gaining of friendships which you might not of expected and the loss of things which you discover are nothing of value are just some of the storylines which are involved.

            It would be difficult for me to put this under some kind of catagory. It is neither a romantic fiction nor a comedy. Nothing to do with crime or that of mystery or fantasy. In this rare occassion it is just a good book.

            It took me the best part of 2 days to fully read this and it is one that I shall look at again. I haven't gotten round to reading the 4 other books which are included in this series but I do intend to as I have gotten quite attatched to Domenica MacDonald, a neighbour who has a lot to say about everything!

            For me this is a great story and gives a valid amount of enjoyment to fill in an hour or so when you have nothing else to do but don't feel like watching the telly. The events which happen are all things which could happen in real life but Alexander McCall Smith has managed to write it in a way which makes you to not want it to stop.

            It would cost you £6.99 from WHSmiths but just under £5 from Amazon. A book which you should definetly invest in.

            If you liked The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency you may also enjoy this book.

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            15.06.2009 22:59
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            Not sure I'd want to live on Scotland Street

            44 Scotland Street is a rather unique offering by Alexander McCall Smith of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame. Born in Zimbabwe, the author completed a portion of his education in Scotland and is in fact married to a Scot. In his quite delightful Preface he explains how the novel was the result of mouthing off about the death of the serialised novel in a Scottish newspaper. "The Scotsman" editorial staff took up his challenge and Alexander McCall Smith was forced to put his money where his pen was. "44 Scotland Street" was the result, published in daily portions.

            The novel explores the lives of the residence of "44 Scotland Street", located in Edinburgh's New Town. The threads of each resident weave together to form a glimpse into a place and time in Edinburgh and result in more of a look at human nature than an overly developed plot. It is McCall Smith's ability to bring characters to life that is highlighted in this particular novel with the action taking a backseat.

            A novel that succeeds or fails based on its characters can be slightly difficult to get into. I found myself picking the novel up, reading a few of the very brief chapters (there are 110 chapters in the 326 page novel) and then putting it back down. This is partially because there were so many characters that I strongly disliked at the start, particularly Bruce, the narcissistic, rugby-fan. Bruce is a distasteful character, but is treated fairly and we are reassured by one character that he is not a psychopath as he would never be cruel to animals. The "heroine" of the story, Pat, decides to let a room in Bruce's apartment and promptly falls in love with him. Such was my dislike of Bruce that I'm afraid I became quite annoyed at poor Pat as well.

            It was only when I reached the second half of the book that I felt I knew the characters well enough to be really invested in the novel. The stories of five-year-old Bertie's attempts to punish his parents in order to be allowed to cease his pursuit of becoming a child-prodigy and just play with his trains is delightful and McCall Smith's running theme of the family's missing car is quite amusing. Another resident of the building, Domenica acts as an eccentric mentor to young Pat and one cannot help but becoming very attached to her. There do seem to be some peripheral characters, such as the daughter of Bertie's boss, who are introduced but not explored in enough depth for them to sit comfortably. Perhaps it was in fact the intent of the author to leave one feeling slightly off balance as the characters themselves find their lives slightly unstable.

            Art and literature are both themes in the novel and are additionally used to explore the concept of class mentality. Pat's second gap year finds her working in an art gallery for the hapless heir to a fortune, Matthew. The two might have found a work by a well known Scottish artist but struggle to hold onto it. Lou, the proprietor of the café/pub that Matthew frequents rather than actually working, found herself the owner of the contents of an entire used bookstore which she is in fact reading her way through. She provides commentaries on Proust, which reminded me that I've never managed to get through more than a paragraph or two by the man myself. Pat finds herself befriended by an eccentric (There are a lot of eccentric characters so I'm overusing that word. Perhaps Edinburgh is a particularly eccentric place) art restorer and amateur poet, Angus Lordie. There is even a delightful cameo (if such a thing can happen in a book) by Ian Rankin.

            In the end it is the individuals who make the novel. This book is more conversation than action which means it's not the most thrilling read and if you're hoping for some huge revelation at the end you are likely to be disappointed. Life goes on one way or the other, on Scotland Street or any other.

            As 3 1/2 stars are not an option I've opted for 4. 3 seemed to harsh as Alexander McCall Smith's work is engaging and well written.

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              24.03.2009 19:01
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              A great insite into middle class edinburgh.

              After reading the fantastic Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, I decided to give the 44 Scotland Street Novels a go - the idea initally started out as a coloumnin the Scotsman if my memory serves me correct.

              44 Scotland Street I feel is designed to introduce us to the characters and gain an understanding of their personalities and querks during each chapter.

              The charachters are:

              Bruce who is portrayed as having a rather large ego and a fondness for hair gel.

              Pat who moves out of home and rents a room in Bruces flat and developes crush on him.

              Irene the overbearing mum with a 5 year old son called Bertie who is made to wear strawberry coloured trousers and undertake activies he doesn't want to. There is a husband 0- the name escapes me who is hen pecked.

              Dominca who is widowed and has an insighful and eventful life and is often dispensing her words of wisdom to Pat.

              Matthew who owns a gallery and employs Pat. He is very confuffled over what he wants in life and for want of a better phrase rolls with the punches.

              Angus adn Cyril the dog = in fact the only dog with a gold tooth.

              All this individuals when mixed together lead for an exciting read. So much soo you can't wait to find out if Pat will ask Bruce out or if indeed Stewart - Irenes husband will stand up for himself and Bertie.

              Bertie is my favourite characther adn you can feel your heart going out ot him, as he faces the struggles of being a project child. Having to take yoga, italian classes, sax lessons and visit a child physcoligust.

              At the end of the book you are in for a treat - a poem which Angus has come up with. and yes this is how the rest of the Scotland Street books end. Sorry to spoil the surprise.

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                11.09.2008 14:09
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                Fabulous, funny and very well writen.

                44 Scotland street - Alexander McCall Smith

                Fabulous !!, thats what I thought when I finished reading this wonderfully written book, and if you have lived in Edinburgh or just have a love of the city, I'm sure you'll love it too.

                It is written by Alexander McCall Smith,who is also the author of the best seller "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency". He ahs a brilliant way of describing the interesting characters in the book which include a young woman called Pat, who is on her second gap year and the trials and tribulations she encounters when she moves in to a new flat in Scotland Street with the vain Bruce, who is a chartered surveyor who captures her heart, she tries hard to fight her feelings as they go against what her head id telling her. But does she manage it !!! I don't want to give too much away.

                Downstairs lives the eccentric Irene and her son who is 5 going on 15. Also living in 44 Scotland Street is Dominica Macdonald who seems to know what everyone is up to !!

                All through the book McCall refers to street names and areas in Edinburgh that you will recognise. This brings an almost realistic feel to the book as you can relate to his references.

                His way of writing is funny, heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining.

                Enjoy!!

                Susan.

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