Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can't Grab a Hold When It Moves So Fast

After quite a delay, involving a few mix-ups with book location, etc., I finally got around to reading Alexander McCall Smith's latest (yes, he has *yet* another latest), The Importance of Being Seven.  This book is the 6th in the 44 Scotland St. series, which I am used to thinking of as my favorite of the McCall Smith (does that not sound professional :)) series.  I'm not going to say yes or no on that at the moment, but to discuss the enjoyability of this book, I need first to establish what these books are meant to accomplish.

Usually that's not much of a question - a book is meant to tell a story from start to finish.  The message tends to vary, the tone, and all that, but the basic format of a novel is pretty much set (the 5 elements of a plot - thank you, Mrs. Janney :)) But the 44 Scotland Sts are not novels, despite any appearance of being so.  They are blocks of serial units, published daily in some newspaper.  So it's not like they are any cohesive story, or even meant as a cohesive story.  So the question becomes whether they should be critiqued as such at all.  On the yes side, there is an effort made to somewhat close off each character's story at the end of the book, so I can't say there's absolutely no plot development.  But for the most part the book meanders back and forth with each character's story and jumps from character to character quite abruptly (well that's not something novels are immune to actually).  But in any case, I didn't read the book as a serial, I read it as a book - so to some extent, that's just what I've got to review it as...

Let me start with the serial part first at least though.  The truth is, I did read the book in fits and spurts so I think I got more enjoyment out of the rapid jumping than I might otherwise have had.  And there is a lot of jumping.  I don't mean just between the different stories, which is to be expected, I mean that there is a *ton* going on for each character.  Some little things that get resolved right away, some big changes... but it's never boring on Scotland St :) And that's definitely necessary for a serial - it keeps you interested and reading on every single day.  As for the characters themselves, the same ones are likeable as ever, the same ones are hateable as ever, and the same ones are as annoying as ever.  So good job with consistency there, AMS :)

When it comes down to it, what I actually (and I assume you actually) care about is, is the book fun to read? And that means no matter how good it is as serial, it needs to be good enough to sit and down and read in one or two sittings.  And it is - I mean a very good serial is going to be at least a decent book.  But I don't know if it's more than that- too many people I just don't care about for one thing.  But besides that, the way things just keep happening creates a very unsettled feeling - prevents me from getting in to the book, as there's always something coming up and going down.  But the truth is, I've read enough of these to know what I'm getting into - and when you've been reading about the same characters for quite a while already, you want to know what happens to them, even if it is sometimes ridiculously improbable and not particularly well explained.  So I definitely get some enjoyment out of these books.

Actually my biggest complaint had nothing to do with the serial form.  AMS has a tendency of moralizing through the mouths or minds of his characters and I'm usually okay with that, as their thoughts and views tend to be fairly innocuous.  This one started out though with a doozy... s/t about a married couple and then saying he and she and *then* - or he and he or she and she! -and I'm like thank you very much, you really needed to put that in, point out how wrong we all are for assuming that a married couple would be a man and a woman... So then I was more hyper-vigilant in searching out liberal propaganda and I did find a few more references... but given that I read this book over a pretty long time, I had pretty much forgotten about it by the end - so no harm done :) And besides, I know he's a pretty outrageous liberal based on everything else he's written - so this is really par for the course.

To sum up (and I think this one needs a sum up :)) Definitely a good serial, other than the blatant propagandizing, less of a good book, because the plot moves too fast and is not well developed enough to allow the reader (me! :)) to get really into it.
Verdict: 3/5 (this is really because I've been reading these books forever, and I like them just because I like them)
Food: Something fleetingly good, but unsatisfying... I'm going to say under-seasoned vegetables - in salad, or grilled, or whatever.  I mean they are good, because vegetables are good plain anyway, and because it's not like there's *no* seasoning... but you keep on trying to taste more than is actually there.

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