Sunday, June 26, 2011

THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY by Alexander McCall Smith

I'm hopelessly in love with anything Alexander McCall Smith writes, so of course I enjoyed every minute of The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, his 12th book about Mma Ramotswe, the detective from Botswana.

It's not the book to start with. You don't necessarily have to read the series in strict order, but you should definitely begin with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency  (the link will take you to a boxed set of the first five books, because you can't stop with just one). If you're like me, you'll fall in love with the characters, and you'll love the way McCall Smith gets into their minds, and you'll appreciate books that feature really good people who are not the least bit sappy.

In this latest installment, Mma Ramotswe investigates a feud between neighboring cattle ranchers (who killed the cows? and why?); Mma Makutsi prepares for her wedding to Phuti Radiphuti (what shoes will she wear? and why is Phuti so bashful about kissing her?); and Charlie, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's apprentice, panics when he learns a former girlfriend has had twins.

I don't read these books for the plot, however. I love them for their gentle humor, as in this paragraph about the delightfully obsessive Mma Makutsi:
She set off a few minutes after Mma Ramotswe, locking the office door behind her and leaving a notice pinned to it saying, Temporarily closed for investigations. She had been rather proud of this notice, which informed any prospective client that the detectives were somewhere else on unspecified but important-sounding investigate work. But as she pinned the sign into position, it suddenly occurred to her that a quite different impression might be created, namely that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was itself under investigation, and consequently had been closed down by the authorities. That would never do, so she reopened the office and carefully typed out a new sign. The wording this time was far better, and, she hoped, quite unambiguous: Temporarily closed while detective personnel are engaged elsewhere. That was much better ... or was it?  Could it be read as suggesting that the entire staff of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was, in fact, working for some other concern? That was certainly not the message she wished to convey, so she inserted a third sheet of paper into the typewriter and typed: Back soon. There was no room for misunderstanding there, although there might be some people who demanded, "And what does 'soon' mean, may we ask? How soon is that?" Such people, however, would never be satisfied with whatever one said, and would always be picking holes in even the simplest notice. No, you did not need to worry about people like that.
I also love these books for their insights into good relationships, as in this conversation between Mma Ramotswe and her husband:
"What would you do if I did something that you thought was a very bad idea, but that I really wanted to do? What if that thing was a thing that made me very happy, but looked ridiculous to you?'

He frowned. "Something your heart was set on?"

"Yes," she said. "Something that my heart said I just had to do."

"In that case, I would say to myself: It is an odd thing that Mma Ramotswe has done, but if that is what makes her happy, then I am happy too."

She looked at him fondly; that he had been sent to her, when there were so many other, lesser men who might have been sent, was a source of constant gratitude. That we have the people we have in this life, rather than others, is miraculous, she thought: a miraculous gift.
And I love them for their philosophizing (which is also one reason I love McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, whose protagonist philosophizes a good deal more than Mma Ramotswe does):
She did not think that people now were any worse than they used to be, but it was very clear to her that they had less time. In the old days Botswana people were rarely in a rush to get somewhere else - why should they be? Nowadays, people were always thinking of getting somewhere - they travelled around far more, rushing from here to there and then back again. She would never let her life go that way; she would always take the time to drink tea, to look at the sky, and to talk. What else was there to do? Make money? Why? Did money bring any greater happiness than that furnished by a well-made cup of red bush tea and a moment or two with a good friend? She thought not.
Add to her list: Does money bring any greater happiness than a couple of hours reading the latest Alexander McCall Smith novel? I think not.
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To read more of my reviews of books by Alexander McCall Smith, scroll up, click on "Fiction/Poetry," and click on the links.

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