You can call me strange for recommending the ninth in a series of novels by the endearing writer, Alexander McCall Smith, but this one can stand up completely on its own. Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers , available as an audiobook, a paperback and an e-book is worth a shout out. Many readers know McCall Smith as the bestselling author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, set in Botswana. We all love Ma Ramotswe and her red bush tea and her excellent secretary and human kindness informing all she does.
But in this series, McCall has won my heart with a new character, Bertie Pollock, who is about to turn 7 in this installment of The 44 Scotland Street series, featuring a number of wonderful characters whose lives collide in a certain section of Edinburgh.
Bertie is one of those tykes who has leaped past the ordinary books most young children read; he's " already consumed not only the complete works of Roald Dahl for children, but also half of Norman Lebrecht's book on Mahler" among other things. He's also had an initiation in to the works of Freud. His mother, Irene is completely set on raising him with no gender influences, plus Italian and yoga lessons. His father, Stuart, who tries in his own way to add some balance to the influence of the overbearing Irene, completely understands why Bertie wants to throw one of her birthday gifts in the Water of Leith. Of course, you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.
Bertie's family are joined by neighbors: Angus, his dog, Cyril, and his wife and Domenica, who are nudged into welcoming a former roommate, Antonia, now a nun, and her friend, an Italian sister with a penchant for making statements that are completely obvious. Add a psychiatrist, a long single woman who may finally meet someone she can date, a couple completely overwhelmed with triplets and Bertie's adventures away from his mum, and you've got a great batch of comedy amid the depth of human insight that this author creates in everything he writes.
McCall began 44 Scotland Street as a series of stories published in TheScotsman, Edinburgh's newspaper, and readers wanted more. Eventually, the series was turned into full length novels. Even if you haven't seen any of the other books, McCall Smith introduces the characters in each one.
As for the ending, readers may sigh with thanks when Irene wins a trip to Dubai, and Bertie gets to have a very different sort of birthday party, with a brand new friend and plenty of sausages.
If you like McCall Smith's wit and Scottish sensibility, you may also want to check out The Sunday Philosophy Club, the first in the Isabel Dalhousie series, also set in Edinburgh.