Never judge a book by it’s cover.
Or by its title.
By all accounts, this is a cheesy book, with a cheesy title, written over cheesy cover art, containing with a cheesy plot line. But the moment you read the first line, you realize this cheese is not at all what you expected: a gourmet sampling served with fine wine, delicious juicy grapes and crisp crackers. Elegant. Tasteful. And definitely something to be savored.
I’ve been anxious to read one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books for quite a long time, ever since my mother told me about Portugese Irregular Verbs. In fact, she not-so-subtly hinted that I should try one of his books by giving me a copy of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which still sits, gathering dust, while I wait for “someday” to arrive.
So when I saw this books on the “New Arrivals” shelf, I snatched it up, partly because it was my excuse to check out this author and partly because I was hoping to get to it before my mom did.
What a read. Not as in the suspenseful, can’t-wait-to-figure-out-who-did-it genre of John Grisham. Not as in the I’ve-got-to-keep-reading-or-I’ll-have-nightmares style of Michael Chrichton. Not as in the will-the-guy-win-the-girl formula of Nicholas Sparks. No, this guy is just flat out interesting. Intriguing. A master storyteller, with characters so real and yet so complex that you feel as though you, too, have been on that train and been part of that conversation. As if you should hug the book good-bye at the end with promises to keep in touch and wishes of luck in your endeavors.
As the book begins, we are introduced to four characters, strangers really, sharing space on a train as it journeys through the English countryside. Typically, those four individuals, very different people from different nationalities and walks of life, begin making small talk to pass the time. Their conversation soon deepens as they begin sharing stories of love: some unrequited, some undiscovered, some hidden, some promising, some triumphant. Their stories reveal truths about love: who and why we choose to love, the mysteries and complexities of relationships, and the relentless pursuit of happiness and contentment that comes with being unconditionally accepted and admired by another.
His mastery of language, and the seamless way he wove backstories into the narrative made for genuine escapism. Like a fluffy beach towel spread across the warm sand, it was easy to snuggle down into their lives, becoming a part of the fabric of their literary existence. The pages flew by as fast as the trees outside their train window, and their stories of life, love, and loss resonated with my own experiences, though in different ways. I haven’t been this taken in by such a genuine narrative since The Brave by Nicholas Evans.
Satisfying. Full-bodied. With subtle hints and nuances that tickle and tease the senses. Cheese, perhaps, but more like Camembert and less like Cheez Whiz.