Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

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Earlier in the week I was invited to join the ‘Online Blogger Book Club’ for the sequel to Alexander McCall Smith’s novel Corduroy Mansion’s, The Dog Who Came In From The Cold. I love the opportunity to read along with other people, so I decided to go for it! I hadn’t read the first in the series, so had to find a copy and read it as quickly as possible!

I have to admit that I have only read one Alexander McCall Smith novel and I wasn’t very impressed. I found The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to be too light and fluffy for my taste. I am always willing to give authors a second chance though, and was interested to find out what his new series would be like.

Corduroy Mansions is set in London and describes the lives of the people who live in the run-down block of flats that gives the series it’s name. The central characters are father and son, William and Eddie. William is desperate for his adult son to move out, so he can finally have some independence and find some romance. The interactions of the residents of the building with the outside world are observed, but although I enjoyed reading small snippets of their lives, I felt that the book didn’t work well when read quickly over the course of just a few days. Corduroy Mansions was originally published online by the Telegraph, one chapter a day, over several months. I can see that by reading this book slowly, allowing the characters to gradually filter into your life, they would have had much more appeal.

I loved the detailed character observations, but found the plot to be almost non-existent. The large number of characters meant that I didn’t really connect with any of them, but I did enjoy the numerous witty anecdotes.

“You may conclude only one thing from my shelves,” he said, noticing the direction of his guest’s gaze, “and that is that I have not bothered to organise the books according to any accepted patterns.” William accepted the mug of tea offered him. “It’s difficult. I find that - ”  Manfred, lowering himself into a chair opposite the sofa, cut him short. “Alphabetical arrangement is not the only option,” he said. “And I’m always slightly suspicious of people whose books are arranged alphabetically. OCD issues. One isn’t a bookshop, you know. Nor a library.” 

This book reminded me of The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy, and I am sure that people who enjoyed one book will love the other.

Here is a short video clip, which gives you a rough idea of where the book is set and Alexander McCall Smith’s thoughts on writing serialised fiction: 

Overall, I found Corduroy Mansions to be mildly entertaining, but I really hope that the sequel builds from the character building of the first book to produce something with a more interesting plot.

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The first chapter of The Dog Who Came In From The Cold will be published tomorrow on the Telegraph website. You can read it for free, but I am more excited about being able to hear the audio book. I think the light, entertaining nature of this series will make it perfect for listening to. I am pleased to see that Andrew Sachs is reading the book, as I think he is an excellent narrator. You can subscribe to the podcast (also free!) from the same page.

Have you read Corduroy Mansions?

Are you planning to read The Dog Who Came In From The Cold?


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39 Comments

  1. David Nolan says:

    Hello Jackie, you’ve probably seen the rather lengthy comment I posted on this subject at Savage Reads. Being a big McCall Smith fan, I think I got rather carried away! (Sorry Simon, if you’re reading this.) If Andrew Sachs reading of the first book is anything to go by, then I am sure your expectations of the podcast version will be met.

    I know what you mean about there possibly being just a few too many characters in the first volume of Corduroy Mansions. This actually becomes more frustrating when following the series day to day because it means you are sometimes waiting several days for your favourite characters to reappear.

    I’m sure that the chapter from which you quote will be a big favourite with the book blogging community, particularly those who occasionally post snapshots of their bookshelves. Did you like the suggestion, later in this chapter, that books about the USA might be shelved according to geography, with books on Montana on the top shelf and those on Florida shelved bottom right?

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Yes, I loved that section! I was going to quote it, but it made no sense without the first section, so I had to leave it. I’m pleased that you brought it up in the comments though!

      I saw your comments on Simon’s blog – I look forward to discussing this one as we read it,

    2. Simon S says:

      Hahahaha I did read this David and I love it when you leave me long replies gives me much food for thought so thanks.

  2. Rebecca Cox says:

    Jackie, I am so glad to finally find someone that felt the same way I did. I read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and felt like there was no substance. I had actually bought the second one, but after reading the first one, I just gave away both of them. I have not bothered reading any of them since. Even my light reading, I like to have more seriousness than these. Glad to hear this one is better, but I still don’t think I will be buying this author any time soon. I guess he is just not my cup of tea. That is why there are all flavors…..

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, This one does have a lot more substance than the Detective Agency, but if you didn’t enjoy that one then I’d be in no rush to encourage you to get this one. A lot of the problems I had with that book are still present, but I think that makes for a great discussion!

  3. kimbofo says:

    I agree with you about the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I read the first volume quite a few years back when every second person on the tube had their nose buried in his books. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about it, so borrowed it from a colleague. Sadly, I thought it was terrible! Since then I’ve not been inclined to read anything else by this author. Corduroy Mansions doesn’t sound much better, to be honest.

    1. Jackie says:

      kimbofo, I think Corduroy Mansions is much better – some of the character observations are spot on. The writing seems a bit better too. It isn’t perfect, but I’ll enjoy the discussion with other bloggers.

  4. molly says:

    I am so excited for both you and Simon. This sounds like such a great opportunity.

    I am very anxious to hear how you like reading in a serial format. I have always thought that I would like to try to do that with one of Dickens’ novels, but I find that I lack the self-control to stop and patiently wait to read the next section. Since you will not have the choice but to wait until the next installment, I am curious as to how that plays in your overall enjoyment of the story.

    1. Jackie says:

      molly, I’ll be interested to see how the serial aspect works too. I have no idea whether I’ll love it or loathe it – I look forward to finding out!

  5. I don’t know why, but the McCall books just didn’t appeal to me. I almost picked up one, to see what the fuss was about, but, decided against it. Think it was one of those books which I hadn’t given a fair chance.

    However, reading the above, I feel vindicated, and I’ll be giving this(these) one(s) a skip as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I think you should avoid the Ladies Detective Agency, but you might like this. Have you read the Room of Lost Things? If not, perhaps you should give that a try? The fact both books are based in London means that they may have more appeal to you?

      1. Nope – haven’t read/heard of that. Just looked it up on Amazon, and am intrigued, specially as I’ve barely seen/experienced South London. I might add it to my next Amazon batch!

        1. Jackie says:

          anothercookiecrumbles, Be aware that I didn’t enjoy The Room of Lost Things either – too many characters and not enough plot for me, but the writing is good and a lot of Londoners enjoy it.

  6. Teresa says:

    I’m so glad to know there are others who weren’t over the moon about No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I just couldn’t get into it. It’s been a long time since I read it, but my recollection is that the characters didn’t seem authentic, and the mysteries felt tricksy, with solutions based too much on the lead character’s intuition than on actual sleuthing. I like my mysteries to be a little darker, with more in-depth characterization. I’ve never been inclined to try more of his books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, It has been a long time since I read it too, but your description sounds spot on. I really struggle to find mysteries I love. That one too basic and far fetched. I would never have tried another one of his books without this Telegraph Club, but it has been quite interesting so far.

  7. Amanda says:

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say they didn’t like the No 1 Ladies detective Agency. I’m hoping to read that soon. I hope I end up liking it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, Almost everyone loves it, but I like my mysteries to be realistic and complex. This one was just too fluffy – I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

  8. Simon S says:

    Hmm I think this is going to be interesting as his series don’t tend to have a massive plot, in fact the whole point is that they are character lead… a bit like my favourite radio show The Archers. Not masses happens but its a fabulous almost nosey neighbour kind of voyerism of fictional people and their foybles (thats not spelt right is it – forgive me deadline week) so think the next book will very much be more of the same.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I knew you’d enjoy this book! I think reading it in serial form will mean that it has much more appeal – either way I look forward to being able to discuss it with so many people.

  9. Sandy says:

    I haven’t read any of these books. But if it makes you feel any better, I do know that I’ve heard others express similar opinions on Smith’s books. Most like No. 1 Ladies Dectective Agency, but not all. I appreciate the fact that you are not afraid to tell it like it is. I know that I get the real deal with you!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I have a feeling that you might like The No. One Ladies Detective Agency. I’m not sure though – I’d love to know your thoughts!

  10. Steph says:

    I tried to read the first Ladies Detective book several years back and it just didn’t work for me. I know plenty of people love McCall Smith, but his stuff just never really appeals to me. The premise of this book (the original serial publication) is neat, but I think you’re right that something that works when doled out in small installments over a stretch of time might not work so well in a novel. I don’t think that this is the book that’s going to get me to love McCall Smith.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I’m amazed by the number of people admiting to not liking The No. One Ladies Detective Agency. I thought I was alone in my opinion! I think listening to this book might make the biggest difference, but hope that the serialisation aspect helps too.

  11. S. Krishna says:

    I haven’t read anything by Alexander McCall Smith, but this book intrigues me. Thanks for the review!

    1. Jackie says:

      S. Krishna, I look forward to you thoughts on it. I hope you enjoy it!

  12. Eva says:

    I joined the club (a bit accidently-I replied back asking a few questions and got myself signed up!). I’ve tried three times to get through The No. One Ladies Detective Agency and never gotten past page 30. For me, the way he as a white author dealt with the native African characters felt a bit uncomfortable. I also tried the Sunday Philosophy Club, and it didn’t live up to my expectations.

    But, it’ll be interesting to read this one with low expectations, you know? Like you, I’m most excited about the audio version! (I haven’t read Corduroy Mansions yet, so hopefully I won’t feel completely lost.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Eva, Trying it three times shows great determination! I love the fact you signed up accidently! LOL! I think you are the first international blogger I’ve seen. Everyone else seems to be UK based. Congratulations!

  13. Carrie K. says:

    I did read Corduroy Mansions as he serialized it – and had much the same reaction as you. Fun characters, but not much happened. I do enjoy his descriptions of the people, though, and will be reading the sequel.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, It is nice to finally meet someone who read the first book! I look forward to comparing notes with you!

  14. Beth F says:

    Interesting concept. But I didn’t like the Detective Agency book I read and your review is not making me want to pick this one up either!

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I think we share reading tastes with his books, but I like the interactivity of this new one. I think the experience is going to be much better than the book itself, so I can see why you wouldn’t want to read it in isolation.

  15. Andreea says:

    I haven’t heard of this book before, but it does sound interesting to me. Thanks for mentioning it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to read it.

  16. Margot says:

    Count me as one of the few who likes the books of AM Smith. I’m signed up for the book club too and I’m looking forward to participating. I like character centered stories so it’s not a problem for me. I also hope to make some suggestions as the story goes along.

    1. Jackie says:

      Margot, I love the interactive aspect of this book. I’m not a fan of character based books, but can see that this project will be the best way for me to appreciaite it. I look forward to comparing notes with you.

  17. Rebecca Reid says:

    Alexander McCall-Smith was my favorite author — until I started blogging and reading voraciously! I did enjoy No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but after a year and a half of blogging, it really isn’t calling my name. So I guess it’s not up there on my favorites list anymore…

    I read McCall-Smith’s 44 Scotland Street serial, and I enjoyed it, but again, now that I’m reading so much, I’m not sure I’d have the patience for it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, It is interesting how our tastes change. I wonder how much of it is reading more books, so the bar for quality is raised higher, or how much is down to the way our tastes change as we age. I always worry about quoting a book I read a few years ago as one of my favourites – I’m not sure I’d still enjoy it.

      1. Rebecca Reid says:

        I think that is why I love rereading favorites!

  18. Karen says:

    I listened to this on-line as it was published. I tended to save my episodes for a week and then listen to them while I was busy in the kitchen. I’ve got a bit behind with The Dog Who Came In From The Cold but am about halfway through and loving it.

    I think I am just about up to date with my Alexander McCall Smith reading in general, I have read just about everything and I love every word and every character. His writing is so restful and very feel good, perfect to turn to if I’ve had a bad run of books I’ve not got on with.

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