Further adventures of the inhabitants of the Edinburgh townhouse that provided the primary setting for this novel's beguiling predecessor, 44 Scotland Street (2005).
Its 105 brief chapters (again, originally published as daily installments appearing in The Scotsman newspaper) reveal a passel of irresistibly eccentric characters, comprising a spectrum of humanity that ranges from embattled innocence through romantic befuddlement to the fringes of contented old age. University student Pat MacGregor embraces the brisk energies of Edinburgh, but not necessarily the attentions of an attractive bloke who casually invites her to a “nudist picnic.” Her flatmate, absurdly handsome and narcissistic Bruce, foresees prosperity as owner of a trendy wine shop, but manages as usual to overestimate both his own charms and his friends’ tolerance levels. Art gallery owner Matthew resolves to protect his widowed father Gordon’s wealth from an amiable “gold-digger”—with astonishingly unexpected results. In the best sequence, six-year-old prodigy Bertie seeks the strength to resist his mother Irene’s soul-cramping progressive educational scheme. Bertie’s determination to become a real boy is conveyed with impressive pathos, as is the “education” (so to speak) of his hitherto passive father, Stuart, who learns at last to assert himself, and foil Irene’s micromanaging. Smith is a master of juxtaposition, and the considerable pleasures this novel offers are diluted only by a rather more frequent recourse to omniscient authorial commentary than was employed in 44 Scotland Street, and by excessive space given to two comparatively uninteresting characters. Sprightly cosmopolitan dowager Domenica Macdonald is an unhappy fusion of Muriel Spark and Auntie Mame. And in successive excerpts from conservative prig Ramsey Dunbarton’s preening memoirs, Smith manages only to make a suffocating bore . . . well, suffocatingly boring. But they are exceptions in a winning human comedy redeemed and energized by its author’s manifest affection for even the silliest of his creations.
Vintage Smith, of a body and bouquet that even Bruce would appreciate.