review an Evening with Alexander McCall Smith

Not even the Queen’s arrival in Ely could faze this amazing writer. Topping and Company had originally planned to hold an evening with Alexander McCall Smith in the Cathedral for it was bound to be a sell out but plans had to be changed when it became known that the Queen was visiting Ely the next day.

Completely unabashed Alexander McCall Smith had the audience in stitches. The building works on the stage of the Hayward Theatre the King’s School had kindly offered became the latest of the artistic entries for the Turner prize, the police outside protecting such valuable works. The listeners knew all this was fallacy but with his unique light-hearted and guileless humour, this giant of a man poked gentle fun at the world and his characters in such a way that we knew he spoke profound truths while we laughed.

His list of books is phenomenal. Just to mention “44 Scotland Street”, “The World according to Bertie”, “The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and his Sunday Philosophy Series is enough to indicate what a household name he has become.

As he spoke, we were privileged to share this author’s preoccupation with his fictional characters and their lives. His antics with the Really Terrible Orchestra in which he plays ‘part’ of the bassoon (only up to high D) and his frank admissions of ignorance with regard to the way cars work were just two examples of his disarming honesty. Only he would ring up a certain psychiatrist to find out details of what can go wrong with cars before he wrote about it in one of his books.

His kindly relationship with his editors, publishers and readers and the pressures he is under to create certain types of events brought forth more hilarious discussion. He did not succumb directly to the call for a car chase – in his own inimitable way, he solved this problem by having a shopping trolley chase. The anomalies in his characters’ development – just how long, for example, should an apprenticeship last? – just how long can Bertie remain so young while all the characters around him grow old? It became clear that it simply did not matter, for such strong characterisation by this author meant that we readers, too, did not want Bertie or the apprentices to grow old or mature. With such strong writing, anything can be made to happen, and in the hands of Alexander McCall Smith, anything does happen. His highly fertile imagination swept us along in his wonderful, tender world of human beings of all different kinds and their respective dilemmas that we share. 



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