The lives, loves and (numerous) eccentricities of the residents of an Edinburgh boardinghouse.
Written in 110 installments and published five times weekly in The Scotsman, Smith’s appealing comedy (also see p. 321) swiftly introduces its major characters, then follows their separate and shared adventures like a large friendly dog (one of which, incidentally, makes several amusing appearances). Pat, a university student muddling trough her second “gap year,” nurses a hopeless passion for smashingly handsome—and absurdly narcissistic—“flatmate” Bruce, while politely deflecting the hesitant attentions of Matthew, in whose mostly unpatronized art gallery she more or less works. Super-supercilious doting mom Irene micromanages her precocious five-year-old Bertie’s progressive education, ignoring his obvious desire to be a real kid and misbehave. Coffee-bar owner and autodidact Big Lou plays Proust-loving mother hen to a clutch of customers that features Matthew and his Mutt-and-Jeff friends Ronnie and Pete. This glum trio balances the Todds (owners of the surveying firm where Bruce blithely toils): morose Gordon, his buttoned-up brother Raeburn and the latter’s annoyingly bubbly wife Sasha, who aims to pair up their manless daughter Lizzie with the dashing Bruce. Also, forthright wealthy widow Domenica, who undertakes to raise Pat’s worldliness quotient, and effusive artist Angus Lordie (proud owner of the aforementioned mutt, Cyril). Smith’s well-paced plot accommodates a possibly valuable painting’s dizzying misadventures and a lavishly planned and hilariously pointless Conservative Ball (attended by only six—count ’em—“guests”), as well as a genial cameo appearance by mystery novelist Ian Rankin. You feel it could go on for a 110 thousand episodes—and may, if Smith continues on the sure-footed path that’s making him something very like Scotland’s P.G. Wodehouse.
And who else would trouble to inform us that “The Emperor Justinian, . . . believed that homosexuality caused earthquakes”? Sheer readerly bliss.