Alexander McCall Smith, the popular author of The No. 1
Ladies’ Detective Agency, published a serialized column
called “44 Scotland Street” for the Edinburgh
Scotsman, which was turned into a book by the same name.
It was a tongue-in-cheek peek at Edinburgh society, complete with
returning characters whose lives intersect with a group of people
who live at the fictional address in Edinburgh’s New
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF SCONES is the fifth book in this
series, following on the heels of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BERTIE,
which featured the adventures of Bertie Pollock, a precocious
six-year-old resident of the fictitious apartment building. Turning
the spotlight on some of the other colorful characters is a
delightful tale with a few more mysteries and insights into a
growing cast of characters.
Bertie and his friends have decided to become Cub Scouts, which
(he discovers to his dismay) must now legally accept girls. It was
his one chance to escape the attentions of his schoolmate, Olive,
who promises to grow up to be as insufferable as Bertie’s
Curmudgeonly Angus Lordie, a landscape and portrait painter, and
his gold-toothed dog, Cyril, were left at the end of the last book
with the product of Cyril’s rendezvous in the park with an
unnamed female of indeterminate breeding. Five months later, the
mother dog’s owner angrily rang the doorbell and deposited a
box containing the six puppies on Angus’s doorstep. Now Angus
is left to figure out what to do with his population explosion.
This story has not yet reached its denouement.
Sedate art dealer Matthew, newly wed and off with his bride on
their honeymoon to Australia, discovers almost too late that
adventure may not be a suitable lifestyle for him and his new
bride. He also discovers a shocking skeleton in his family
Domenica, Angus’s close friend and confidante, is in an
ongoing turmoil with an old friend and neighbor over a stolen Spode
cup. Their tenuous relationship escalates to nearly insurmountable
dimensions as suspicious deliveries begin to arrive at her door.
There may also be romance in the air between Domenica and Angus,
although two confirmed singles of a certain age might encounter
unforeseen and quite possibly insurmountable obstacles.
Bruce, the vainest male in Scotland whose good looks have
carried him far but never far enough, is confronted with reality in
this installment. Can he become “The Face of Scotland,”
or will an epiphany of the heart save this narcissistic young fop
from his foibles?
Big Lou, the owner of a local pub who has a reputation for bad
taste in men, has her patience put to the ultimate test when her
current boyfriend, a fervent Jacobite, brings the Pretender to the
Throne of Scotland back from France to sleep on her couch until he
can reclaim his title.
Gangster Lard O’Connor shows up unexpectedly at
Matthew’s gallery to have a potentially priceless (and no
doubt ill-gained) portrait of poet Robert Burns appraised. This has
Matthew, Domenica and Angus in a quandary as to how to handle it,
especially when Lard drops dead at Lou’s bar.
44 Scotland Street is almost a real address, but not quite. An
examination via Google Maps shows the last address to be at Number
43. The people and stories in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF SCONES
could also be true, according to McCall Smith in his Preface. He
says that you can see these people any day in the New Town section
of Edinburgh, which all lends a feeling of eavesdropping on the
residents of this most Scottish city. One must wonder: Do the real
denizens of Edinburgh glance covertly over their cocktail glasses
at one another across a crowded party or a restaurant and think,
I wonder if…?
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 24, 2011
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones