One of my favorite French and Saunder’s movie parodies is the Harry Potter one they did for Comic Relief (just go to Youtube and search “French and Saunders Harry Potter”). One of my favorite scenes from Harry Potter and the Chamber Pot of Azerbaijan is one where the actor portraying the actor playing Dumbledore says of J.K. Rowling: J.K., as we call her, is a good writer. Not a great one but a good one.
I think he’s on to something there (One of my friends just had an excellent point when she said that it’s actually really great that J.K.’s writing is so simple because her world is so complex) but I also apply the same to Alexander McCall Smith. Despite having read little of his extensive collection of written works I count myself a fan of McCall Smith but I would never describe him as one of my favorite authors or even one of the best. His writing is incredibly simple but unlike Stephanie Meyers simple writing his conveys a tone of congenial familiarity, the bloke in the pub sort of writing. It’s this style that makes me enjoy him, it’s like taking a lovely little vacation without feeling like a slug on the beach (that was a horrific analogy but I’m emotionally drained so just don’t say anything.)
McCall Smith’s Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations lived up to my expectations. Inside this slim paperback are nine little stories about dating and love. Most are charming, some are sweet, a few fantastical and all of them contain (what I believe to be) his characteristic determined cheerfulness. If my memory serves (and it does, alright?) all of these stories end with happiness (actually, one doesn’t but that one felt distinctly out of place).
I was going to go through and give a review for each of the nine stories but because the stories are each so wonderfully simple I’m afraid any attempt of review will simply entail me giving away the plot of each. What I’m going to do instead is rate each one and give it an extremely short response.
Wonderful Date: 4/5 stars. Absolutely charming and delightful this one completely lacks a traditional plot of conflict and resolution but is all the better for it. Exactly the sort of short story that I love to read and write. In fact, it’s more vignette then short story I would say.
Nice Little Date: 5/5 stars. Startling! Extremely short but with such a wallop… I read this story and needed to reread it multiple times just to make sure that it would still send electricity through me (it did).
Bulawayo: 4/5 stars. This short story started off strong, then slagged but was saved by the wife in the story. The ending was surprising, not shocking like the one above but a pleasant surprise all the same.
Far North: 3.5/5 stars. While I started off really enjoying the story the characters soon felt flat but the sudden death certainly shook things up.
Intimate Accounts: 3/5 stars (just barely above 2.75 stars). The idea was interesting but was really poorly sustained. I found the narrator to be a bit annoyingly full of himself and the patients flatter than the characters in Far North. But it wasn’t terrible, the concept was just interesting enough to save it.
Calwarra: 2.5/5 stars. Yawn. Honestly I had forgotten entirely about this story. It contained the one sort of sad ending and as a story it simply went no where. While I could relate to the characters (I come from a farming community, not in Australia but Vermont’s not that different) I think I slept through most of it. Nothing to write home about.
Fat Date: 5/5 stars. One of favorite stories in this book, if not one of any of the short stories I’ve read. The characters were easily sympathetic, the dialog well written and the plot nicely executed. I found myself laughing while my heart was being touched by the love in this story. Read it.
Maternal Influence: 3.5/5 stars. I don’t want to say that the story was a cliché but it was certainly familiar enough. Domineering mother creates a wimpy son who struggles to find his own path. That’s all folks.
Heavenly Date: 5/5 stars. The most fantastical of all these stories and one of the best written. While there was little amusing about it this story was pretty. Not a staggering work of beauty but just pretty, like the Mona Lisa. I’m not quite sure what else there is to say about this… His descriptions of the Italian country side are exactly how I remember it and the acceptance that these characters have to the unbelievable is absolutely wonderful.
So… if I average all the scores together Heavenly Dates and Other Flirtations receives a… 3.9 stars, which sounds exactly right to me.
3.9 stars out of 5.