Review

The World According to Bertie: A 44 Scotland Street Novel

by Alexander McCall Smith

Six-year-old child prodigy Bertie introduces us to new insights
on the residents of his townhouse condominium at 44 Scotland
Street.

Having returned unscathed from his misadventures in Paris with a
teenage jazz band, he has resettled with his family, now larger by
one with brother Ulysses. Bertie was excited about the new baby,
confident that his insufferable mother would turn her attentions to
the newborn. Poor Bertie --- clever child that he is, he could not
have dreamed that his mum, intent on improving the world, would see
Bertie and Ulysses as harbingers of change to the ways that boys
looked at infant nurturing. As Bertie is introduced to every facet
of infant care, he begins to think that some childless couple,
somewhere, would welcome Ulysses into their lives. Changing diapers
is one thing, but the breast pump is one step too far in gender
social change.

Regular readers might remember that Bertie’s father
mislaid his car on an Edinburgh side street that led to
Bertie’s education being broadened through introduction to
the underbelly of Glasgow auto thievery. Now his absent-minded
father has returned home from a stroll with Ulysses in the pram to
the pharmacy with the pills but no pram, and, more importantly, no
Ulysses. The search for his brother introduces Bertie to yet
another side of the law through Edinburgh’s social welfare
system.  Bertie, meanwhile, is hopeful that his lost little
brother has found a home with a loving and hopefully normal family.
Life in Bertie’s family continues to prove educational in
unconventional ways.

Meanwhile, Cyril, Angus Lordie’s opinionated dog, has been
arrested as a suspect in a series of ankle-biting incidents on
Prince Street. Poor Angus, whose life revolves around Cyril, is
thrown into an artistic funk and cannot apply brush to canvas in
his devastation over the threat of Cyril’s demise at the
hands of animal control. Angus and Bertie have a chance meeting at
the Edinburgh police station, which leads the two of them to
resolve poor Cyril’s dilemma.

The other denizens of 44 Scotland Street are similarly engaged
in their individual slices of life, yet Alexander McCall
Smith’s engaging way of looking through a slightly different
lens makes their lives remarkable, often in philosophically
whimsical ways.

When McCall Smith began his episodic series about four families
in a mythical apartment building on Edinburgh’s Scotland
Street, he could not have imagined that these anecdotal snippets
would turn into a successful novel, let alone four. Each of the
residents and their widening circle of friends provide a
lighthearted look at life in Edinburgh’s upper middle class.
Infinitely civilized, educated and well-bred, they represent coffee
house and art gallery owners, accountants, artists,
anthropologists, editors, pub patrons, a lothario, a Serbian
plasterer with a one-word English vocabulary, a dog, a cat, and
especially a precocious six-year-old with a fascinating secret to
share.

Stirred by curiosity, I Googled a map of Edinburgh for 44
Scotland Street and discovered that there is, indeed, a Scotland
Street and all of the other colorful places McCall Smith describes,
but the last address listed is at Number 43. The author’s
sense of place flows through his two series in Edinburgh and
his most famous No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana,
Africa, making us feel right at home in these places he
clearly loves.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 24, 2011

The World According to Bertie: A 44 Scotland Street Novel
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: November 11, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307387062
  • ISBN-13: 9780307387066