Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Full Cupboard Of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

I’ve blogged about Alexander McCall Smith before, so I won’t rehash all his biography or his delightful involvement in the Really Terrible Orchestra. Rather, I suggest reading my previous posts, which will give the background on this series of novels.

The Sunday Philosophy Club (the first one I read, so the best place to start)

Blue Shoes And Happiness (#7 in the series)

I’ve mentioned before that my kids, for some reason, love the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of books. Despite the slow pace and philosophical musings, they find them quite entertaining. Perhaps this is because of Mma. Ramotswe’s endless capacity for bush tea, or the raisin-laden cakes used by Mma. Potokwane, the director of the orphanage, to convince the timid and kind-hearted Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to donate his time to her cause. These, of course, are in abundance in this particular book, as is another recurring element: the obsession that the apprentice Charlie has with girls.

This book is #5 in the series. I have ended up listening to them out of order because our library doesn’t have all of them, and many are checked out by others at any given time. Fortunately, it is possible to jump in anywhere and enjoy them, as McCall Smith introduces the key characters and settings in each book.

I’m not sure how McCall Smith came up with the title for this particular book, as it doesn’t seem as topical as the other two I have listened to in this series. One might, however, have gone with “Taking The Plunge.”

Poor Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni finds himself in a series of pickles which threaten to overwhelm his already delicate nerves and force him to heights of bravery he fears he cannot attain. First, Mma. Ramotswe wishes for him to set a date for their wedding. While he clearly wishes to marry her, the expectations are just too much. There are relatives, and food to plan, and...well, too much for an introvert like him to face. Then, Mma. Potokwane railroads him into doing a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for the orphanage, when he has never even ridden in an airplane. Finally, when he takes pity on a rare old car which has been abused by an unscrupulous mechanic, he runs afoul of the perpetrator, who tries to intimidate him.

While this is going on, Mma. Ramotswe is hired to investigate four potential beaus of a rich businesswoman, to see if they are in love with her, or just her money.

It will take all of Mma. Ramotswe’s ingenuity - and some help from Mma. Potokwane - to ease Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s burdens, all while allowing him to retain his dignity.

Like all of the books of this series, this one addresses weighty issues. Is it easier or harder for a wealthy person to find love and a spouse? What is the nature of courage? How does a feminist navigate a culture in which the superiority of men is assumed? Is it ethical to manipulate someone into doing something you believe they want to do, but don’t? Can the world’s problems be solved by common sense, emotional intelligence, and enough bush tea? (Well, the answer to that may very well be “yes.”)

As always, McCall Smith writes with a gentle touch. There are few true villains in his books, and no perfect heroes and heroines either. The characters are all realistic amalgams of goodness and flaws, and, like Mma. Ramotswe, we get further when we understand others’ struggles and weaknesses, and encourage the better parts of themselves.

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