What’s not to love about a chilly, rainy July Saturday in the Netherlands? Well, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, this weather is a gift, a full on English Breakfast with whole milk and two sugars cuppa. I feel the cool breeze and absolute lack of sun and smile from under the duvet knowing that I have many good reasons to stay home, read in my pajamas (it is my job, after all, to read), and let Aaron walk Arthur Barker and eventually make brunch. My to do list hums its way through my mind as I stretch and yawn, first I’ll read a little, then work on my Moodle course, then blog a little…for such a very cosy and domestic day, I ignore for the moment the other books I have going, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Red Pyramid, and choose my new copy of Corduroy Mansions, the first installment in Alexander McCall Smith’s recent series, begun as a serial novel for The Daily Telegraph in September 2008. I want to relax and laugh with some new characters as they ramble through their London lives, so this is the perfect read for this perfectly gray day.
I’ve already met and, as expected, become fond of the main characters as the series opens, William the 51-year old widower wine merchant and his friend Marcia the caterer who has her eye on William as a “prospect”. They are hatching a scheme to get William’s 24-year old, “dreadful”, indolent son Eddie to finally move out of his father’s flat. Their plot involves time-sharing a Pimlico terrier named Freddie de la Hay, a dog that resembles a Jack Russell terrier or any other little terrier you might imagine. This was Martha’s great idea, again she sees William as a future “more-than-a-friend”, so getting the son out of the way is a solid first step towards the possibility of “something more”. Eddie, as it happens, is terrified of all dogs big or small, plus dogs tend to make him sneeze and itch if they lick him. This particular dog has been blessed with owners who only really want a part-time dog. William isn’t sure he wants to try the dog-scheme at all. The Pimlico Terrier option is perfect. What could possibly go wrong?
William and Eddie live in the top floor flat of a four-story, down-at-heel yet not-quite-shabby mansion block surlily nick-named Corduroy Mansions by a disgruntled person at some point in the past and then was forever after known as Corduroy Mansions. The first floor flat is shared by four young women, each with her own quirky lifestyle and odd circle of acquaintances. Jenny works as the PA for a rather nasty politician named Oedipus Snark, an MP who offends everyone he meets and has an annoying habit of ending sentences with “See?” as in “Did you get it?”. Through Jenny we meet Oedipus’s mother, Berthea Snark, who detests her son just a little bit more than he detests his voters. Back at the flat, Caroline, clad in sweaters and pearls, is studying Fine Arts at the Sotheby’s Instiutute and hoping to live the lifestyle that the degree requires, namely one full of money and leisure. Dee is a holistic medicine junky, hooked on vitamins and self-diagnosis and not afraid to diagnose others. The fourth roommate, Jo, likes to go paintballing in Essex on the weekends. The ground floor flat is home to an accountant named Mr. Wickramsinghe who keeps to himself and puts fresh flowers in a vase in the entry hall. There’s definitely a story there as well, so there’s a lot to look forward to this afternoon!
The Daily Telegraph has a wonderful online world for Corduroy Mansions, including a summary of book one which I’m going to ignore until I’ve finished the novel, and the complete second novel in the series, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold with both text, illustations and audio chapters read by Andrew Sachs. There’s a Facebook community for the series, interviews with McCall Smith, character summaries, reviews and, of course, loads of further reading from the Telegraph’s Expat book club and latest book news. Lots to enjoy on a rainy day!