Monday, November 24, 2008
Corduroy Mansions (with brief notes on Sri Lanka)
I've been listening to audio books--first on tape, then on CD, now on my iPod--regularly for about 12 years now and have a good sense of what I like to listen to (which is not necessarily the same as what I might like to read). Over the years, there have been many series, and readers, I've enjoyed greatly, many of which, it turns out, are sort of old-school and British. There's the charming Ian Carmichael reading all of Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, for one. He actually played Wimsey in a 70's BBC version of the books, but I liked listening to him read better, since he's great at doing all the voices. Another favorite is Prunella Scales reading EF Benson's Lucia series. (Actually, Geraldine McEwan, who played Lucia in the BBC version, reads a couple and Prunella Scales, who played Mapp, reads the others. They're both good, though I think I have a slight preference for Prunella Scales.) And, of course, I've already documented my love of Patrick Tull's performances of Patrick O'Brian's complete Aubrey/Maturin series.
A more recent find is all the various series of Alexander McCall Smith, famous initially for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I enjoyed reading the first few of those, but then, for some reason, I stopped reading them and started listening to his other series, which include Isabel Dalhousie/Sunday Philosophy Club series and the 44 Scotland Street Series. He originally started writing 44 Scotland Street as a serial novel in a Scottish newspaper--it involves many short chapters centering around the lives of a motley group of people who live at that address in Edinburgh. The short chapters translate particular well to audio, and they've been really fun to listen to. I am looking forward to the newest installment, The World According to Bertie, which was just published in the US. (Bertie is one of his best creations--a precocious six-year-old with a mother, Irene, who spouts Melanie Klein and forces Bertie to go to yoga and psychotherapy and Italian and saxophone lessons and who insists that he audition for the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra, despite the fact that he is, after all, only six. Bertie getting left behind in Paris, on the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra's tour, is one of the highlights of the previous book, Love Over Scotland.)
But all of this is a very long introduction. What I mean to say is that Alexander McCall Smith is writing yet another serial novel right at this very moment. This one, however, is an online novel. It's called Corduroy Mansions and is being published on the web site of the British Newspaper, The Telegraph. It's also available by podcast. I just discovered it and have downloaded the first 50 chapters, which are all that have been written so far. (He's writing a new chapter each weekday for 20 weeks, for a total of 100 chapters.) It's similar to Scotland Street, in that it involves the residents of the titular Corduroy Mansions, the nickname of a building in London. There's William the wine merchant and his feckless son, Eddie; the mysterious Sri Lankan, Mr. Wickramsinghe; the smarmy MP, Oedipus Snark (and his mother, Berthea, who is writing her son's unauthorized biography); a dog named Freddie de la Haye who's been trained to be a vegetarian and insist that he be buckled into a seatbelt in the back of cabs; and many others.
So far, it's been quite engaging and enjoyable. Plus, it's not too often that you get to listen to (or read) something that the author is still writing. McCall Smith says that he stays about 20 chapters ahead of the reader, which would make him about 3/4 of the way through now, while the readers are only halfway there. It's interesting to know that all of these threads of stories he's thrown out could be tied together in a multitude of ways and that the fates of the characters have not yet been decided. I have no idea where it's going--and I haven't even been introduced to all the characters yet, 20 + chapters in--but I'm certainly interested to find out.
On a separate (but related) note, when I was in Sri Lanka last January, I stayed for a few nights in the lovely city of Galle. (I stayed in the delightful Lady Hill Hotel, where I was treated like a VIP because my friend Sonia is a regular there. It was like she was a rock star or something. "You are the friend of Sonia Gomez?" people kept asking. Sonia laughed and laughed when I told her this.) I didn't spend as much time in Galle as I would have liked, mostly because there were beautiful beaches just a few miles down the coast, but it is charming little city. A few weeks after I was there, the Galle Literary Festival took place, and as it happens, Alexander McCall Smith was one of the participants. I knew this at the time because I saw his name on the poster, but he must have been influenced by his stay there because Galle keeps turning up in his books. Mr Wickramasinghe, one of the residents of Corduroy Mansions, is a native of Galle; and in the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, which I also just listened to, Isabel's niece Kat goes off on a vacation to Sri Lanka and ends up in . . . Galle. Kat even specifically mentions Taprobane Island, this tiny island immediately off the coast of Weligama, south of Galle, where there's a beautiful villa, once owned by Paul Bowles, and now a very fancy hotel. At least he only had Kat have lunch there (which may or not be possible in real life); to stay overnight (which involves renting the whole place) costs $2200/night in Dec/Jan. Yikes.
For the hell of it, I am including two photos, one of the view from the roof of the Lady Hill and one of the lovely beach at Mirissa--one of the reasons I didn't spend as much time in Galle as Alexander McCall Smith did. I hope to return to Galle on another trip. In the meantime, I'm going to keep listening to Corduroy Mansions and encourage you to do the same!