CBR Bingo: Reader’s Choice (replacing the Machinery square)
Series: 44 Scotland Street. I read (and reviewed) Book 1 in 2017.
What I remembered about this series prior to reading this book: Not very much–I definitely remembered Bruce, the Gaston of the book, who had some underwear-related adventure in the first book that made me laugh out loud although I can’t remember the details any more. And Bertie, the 6 year old whose mother forces him to wear pink pants because she’s trying to raise him without any gender stereotypes. And I remembered it was originally a newspaper serial.
Why I stopped reading the series: I liked Book 1, but I didn’t love it.
The plot: These books don’t have much plot. They’re about the inhabitants and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh: Bertie, with his hard-to-love mother and defeated father; Pat, an art student working at a gallery; her boss Matthew; her horrible roommate Bruce; Domenica, an anthropologist who struck me as being very tiresome; and a couple other people as well. Not a lot happens–the books are really about these people’s everyday lives. Bruce decides to open a wine shop; Matthew’s rich father falls in love with a younger woman; Bertie’s father misplaces the family’s parked car in Glasgow and tries to locate it. The one exception is Bertie–a lot of things happen to Bertie, and they are all delightful to read.
The good: Bertie. Oh my god, Bertie. I looked forward to the Bertie chapters and skimmed through some of the others because they were nowhere near as good. Bertie is so funny and so easy to identify with, even though he’s a six-year-old boy. His mother forces him to learn Italian, practice yoga, see a psychotherapist (who Bertie considers to be a dangerous lunatic). His efforts to try and make a friend are so sweet and heartbreaking. I could read a whole book just about Bertie, and would probably like it much better than I liked Espresso Tales.
The bad: Domenica is a bore. Bruce is a nightmare (although he’s supposed to be). There are a couple chapters about a guy named Ramsay Dunbarton who is writing his memoir and reading it aloud to his wife. The joke is that she always falls asleep during the reading because he’s so dull. The problem is that then we the readers have to sit through the chapters with his dull memoirs as well (I skimmed most of them). Much as I love Bertie and his family, they are a little problematic. I actually think it’s great to try to raise a kid without gender stereotypes, but his mother takes it ridiculously far. I feel like Alexander McCall Smith is trying to make a “let kids be kids” point, which I agree with! But there’s a bit of gender essentialism there too.
Did Espresso Tales change my mind about the series: sort of! In the first book I mostly liked reading about Bruce, and in this one I mostly liked reading about Bertie. I liked this one better than the first one, too.
Will I keep reading the series: Probably in fits and starts. I can’t see myself binging it, but I can definitely see myself picking it up when I need something light, funny and enjoyable.