Patricia Cleveland-Peck reviews this comforting book by Alexander McCall Smith in collaboration with illustrator Iain McIntosh
What many of us need in these troubled times is comfort reading and if there is one writer whose works are guaranteed to gladden the heart, it is Alexander McCall Smith. Running through his books, whether set in Botswana, Edinburgh, London, Germany, Sweden or anywhere else, is a thread of delight in life’s pleasures and ironies. Although often described as ‘gentle,’ these stories do frequently deal with life’s philosophical questions – but with such a light touch as to be unfailingly entertaining. Tiny Tales would in fact make a perfect little present to cheer up a worried friend.
For his many fans, Tiny Tales is of course very welcome but for those who don’t know his work it would be a very good place to start, for like a delicious hors d’oeuvres, it whets the appetite for more – and A.McCS’s having written 100 books, a feast awaits.
In Tiny Tales however A.McCS is undertaking something new – the very short story. It is remarkably clever how, in just a few pages, he can create a complete little world. The settings and characters diverse: a garage-owning widower from Dumfries who orders a Thai bride online; the man who dials the wrong number only to discover that the woman who answers is his mother who lost him when she left him as a baby in a handbag on a station (You can almost hear Edith Evans intoning these famous words…) There is also an ingenious one about Lord Lucan, who makes a living by playing himself as a look-alike in a pub, before taking the lead role in a film of his life, which he unfortunately loses by falling off the boat and drowning in the final scene.
The tales, which aptly demonstrate the brilliance of the writer’s imagination, are loosely grouped under headings which include; love, kindness, poignancy, revenge, strangeness, meeting in lifts and one which fit in no known category, those concerning the Australian pope, Ron, who ends up getting a tattoo of St Francis on his shoulder.
The book also contains an extra treat, something almost worth buying the book for alone. Interspersed throughout the text are eight little graphic stories, called amuse-bouches drawn by A.McCS’s friend, Iain McIntosh who also illustrates the 44 Scotland Street series and does the artwork for his No 1 Lady Detective Agency books. Each set of four witty images has a punch line and they are satisfying in much the same way as A A.McCS’s text – and together make Tiny Tales a little treasure.
Tiny Tales is published by Polygon @£9.99 and is also available as an eBook