I have read the 48th book for the book challenge. It was The Importance Of Being Seven: A 44 Scotland Street Novel by Alexander McCall Smith.
McCall Smith catches up with the doings of all the residents and former residents of 44 Scotland Street in this latest installment of the series. First week we find Matthew and Elspeth very happily married and living in Matthew’s India Street flat. Elspeth, as you will remember, had to resign from the Steiner School when she pinched Olive’s ear so she contents herself being a homemaker. Matthew is working at the gallery with the new girl Kirsty. Elspeth doesn’t much like Kirsty and truth to tell, neither does Matthew. She tends to drive out customers because she flirts with men and their wives drag them out before they buy and she keeps trying to get Matthew to buy very expensive paintings and Matthew fears she will buy something without telling him. Then Elspeth discovers she is pregnant. She and Matthew are overjoyed. Elspeth is quite sick with morning sickness. One day she has to go to the hospital for an ultrasound. While there, they discover one…two…THREE fetuses. Elspeth is carrying TRIPLETS! She promptly faints. When she recovers she realizes she must tell Matthew. She goes to the gallery and tells Matthew, who promptly faints.
Matthew and Elspeth discuss what they need to do to prepare for the birth of their three babies and the expanding of their family to five people. Matthew remarks that they must start looking for a bigger place in which to live. They look at a few places but none seem right. Then Elspeth remembers seeing a flat for sale on Moray Place that she thinks looked nice. Moray Place is where the nudists meet, but they don’t have to associate with them, do they? At any rate they go to look at the Moray Place flat. It seems perfect and Elspeth is sure they would be happy there. Matthew is going to put in a bid on it but Elspeth faints and an ambulance is called. She is all right and the ambulance is sent away. Matthew puts in a bis that is quite high, but it needs to be in order to get it as others want it too. The bid is 950,000 pounds, almost 1 million pounds. Elspeth is horrified. Matthew’s solicitor warns him that he’s heard that there may be a structural problem, that a load-bearing wall was removed without permission. Matthew calls in an engineer. It is Bruce, from 44 Scotland Street. He preens and fawns and says that Matthew paid far too much for the flat and that the only thing holding up the flat and indeed the other flats in the Chinese wardrobe and if that is moved the whole place will come crashing down. Matthew is so upset that he can’t even move. He eventually tells Elspeth. Elspeth says she will straighten it out and also take care of Kirsty. She fires Kirsty (Kirsty then pulls her hair and a fight ensues). Then Elspeth hires a competent engineer who looks at Moray Place and tells her there is nothing wrong. He even moves the Chinese wardrobe to prove nothing will happen to the place. So Matthew and Elspeth can move in Moray Place with no fears.
Bertie longs to be seven. He thinks that many, if not most, of his troubles will end if only he were seven. He wants to take his baby brother Ulysses to school for show-and-tell. He asks his mother is he can bring Ulysses and her mutters “yes” not really hearing what he asks. The day he takes him to school is the day his father is supposed to take him to school but his father had to leave for work early and his mother had her day for staying in bed, so Bernie bundled up Ulysses and took him in his push chair on the bus by himself off to school. Of course when he got to school, the school called his mother and there was a big set-to about the entire incident. Bertie thought he had permission. Irene was livid at Stuart. It was a big mess. Then Irene and Bertie are packaging used clothing for shipment to Romania. And Irene disappears. Bertie finally goes home. Irene is missing for a week or more. Posters are put up. Ulysses is finally not sick when he eats and is a very happy baby. Bertie is worried about his mother but glad Ulysses is happy. Finally Irene is found in the back of the container truck in Hungary. She is shipped back to Scotland no worse for wear. Ulysses begins to get ship again. Bertie notices how remarkable like Dr. Fairbairn Ulysses looks. He tells this to his mother. His mother tells Bertie never to speak about this again. Stuart offers to take Bertie fishing. They decide to go fishing on a school day, just the two of them, to the Pentlands. Irene is not happy. They stop a a store to buy crisps and chocolate. Bertie catches two trout but they both get away. But he is happy to have caught them. They walk back to their car but get lost. They end up at a farmer’s house. The farmer and his wife have a son Bertie’s age. the son and Bertie become fast friends over dinner. The son asks if Bertie can spend the night. Stuart says yes. Bertie has his first real friend. His new friend gives him a Swiss Army knife. A gift he has always dreamed of. And he has always dreamed of having a friend.
Domenica and Angus and Antonia are a bit bored. Antonia has a friend who has a villa in Tuscany. They all decide to go to the villa in Italy for a holiday. Angus decides that this is just what he needs for inspiration for a great painting. He first decides that for Italy he really needs some some decent clothes for warmer weather so he actually goes shopping. He even buys Cyril a bandana to wear to Italy. When they arrive in Italy, as soon as they collect Cyril from the baggage depot, Cyril sniffs out drugs in someone’s backpack and alerts the police. Cyril is a hero and gets an Italian award. The three travelers head off to the villa in Tuscany. Antonia’s plan of putting Angus in with her are thwarted by Domenica taking charge putting Angus in the single room while she and Antonia will share the double. It only seems right. They make plans to go to see the Uffizi Museum in Florence and other sights. Antonia is acting a bit strange, carrying on about the beauty and the light and such things. She and Angus wander off to get something to eat while Domenica holds their place in line at the Uffizi. She is still carrying on about beauty and art and Angus is getting nervous. They return to Domenica and go into the Uffizi where they split up and agree to meet in three hours time. Suddenly there is a commotion and they hear sirens and find Antonia on the floor muttering. She is suffering from Stendahl Syndrome, an overwhelming of art and beauty, and must go to the psychiatric hospital for a long rest. It often takes people from Northern climates when they come to Italy and are overwhelmed by its beauty and all the art there and this is what happened to Antonia. So Domenica and Angus go about their holiday and check by telephone on Antonia every day. She must stay at the hospital for three weeks. One day Domenica and Angus are talking and Angus decides to take a very bold step. He asks Domenica to marry him. She says yes. She loves him and even loves Cyril. They decide to hold a party at the villa since so many of their friends from Scotland are visiting in the area. At the party, Angus has composed one of his famous poems. He is a very contented man.
I love this series by McCall Smith. The residents and former residents of 44 Scotland Street and old friends by now. Poor Bertie. He has millions of fans across the world who are praying for him to somehow get out from under Irene’s oppressive thumb. The woman really is a witch. Or maybe the word that begins with a “b.” At least his father is beginning to stand up to her. Maybe things will improve in the next book. They certainly got better for Bertie in this book. I’m happy for Matthew and Elspeth. I can’t imagine what their lives will be like with triplets. It will be interesting to see what McCall Smaith comes up with for them. And what will married life be like for Angus, Domenica, and Cyril? Will they live in 44 Scotland Street, where Domenica was born, or Drummond Place, where Angus’s studio is, or will they keep both places? Decisions, decisions. I can hardly wait for the next book!