All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Tea Time For The Traditionally Built – Alexander McCall-Smith

on November 4, 2010

This is the 10th novel in the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels set in Botswana. My fiance got me into these novels some years ago now, probably three or four and I’ve always really enjoyed them. There’s a real simplicity to them and although I know next to nothing about Botswana I always feel like I’m getting a genuine insight into the thoughts and lives of average everyday Botswanians.

For the uninitiated, the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels are the stories of Mma Precious Ramotswe, a traditionally built lady (read: very large) from Botswana who started up a Detective Agency and wants nothing more than to help people. Assisting Mma Ramotswe is Mma Makutsi, a lady of bad skin who wears glasses (and is very self-conscious and prickly about these two things) who scored an unprecedented 97% on her exams at the Botswana Secretarial College, a fact that she likes to remind people of frequently. Mma Makutsi is more outspoken than Mrs Ramotswe and voices her opinions perhaps without thinking. Mma Ramotswe is often like the voice of reason. There are a host of colourful background characters, such as Mr JLB Matakoni, a mechanic with a rather fond eye for Mma Ramotswe in earlier novels. In later novels they are married, although they hilariously still refer to each other as “Mma Ramotswe” and “Mr JLB Matakoni” when speaking about each other and also to each other. This could be a peculiarity of the culture as they seem a faultlessly  polite people.

In this novel Mma Ramotswe is facing the inevitable. Her little white van, so much a part of these novels that really it’s a character itself, is finally on it’s last legs. Mr JLB Matakoni has fixed it and fixed it every time something has gone wrong with it but it seems this time that even such a fine mechanic cannot help it. Something about the “distribution of load” muttered very quietly so that Mma Ramotswe won’t take this as a remark about her traditional build. Mma Ramotswe is very reluctant to part from her little white van, it has served her well for many years now and she is very attached to it, even with all its little quirks and habits. Soon though, she may have very little choice so it’s lucky she has some mysteries to keep herself occupied lest she mourn too much!

The client of this novel is a Rra Molofololo, the manager/owner of the Kalahari Swoopers, the local football team. He is concerned because after a very promising start and despite possessing some talented players, the Kalahari Swoopers are on a downward slide and are losing a lot of matches. He is certain that someone in the team is throwing matches and he wants Mma Ramotswe to find out who. Mma Ramotswe does not know anything about soccer so she goes along to her first game and then must question all the players afterward and try and get to the bottom of what is happening to the team.

Mma Makutsi has her own problems. The glamorous Violet Sephotho, who only scored at most, a 50% on her exams at the Botswana Secretarial College has begun work for Mma Makutsi’s fiance, Rra Phuti Radiphuti at his furniture store, selling beds. Violet has proven to be an exceptional sales person, selling four beds on her very first day and Rra Radiputi is very impressed with her. Already having been put down by Violet in the past, Mma Makutsi fears losing her fiance to this more attractive and worldly girl for Rra Radiphuti is a fine, good man, totally unsuspecting of clever and deceitful women. Mma Makutsi must do something to expose Violet for what she is, but how can she do this when Rra Radiphuti has such a fine opinion of her? It will require a careful expose!

To be honest, this one was not my favourite book in the series. I’m not sure if it’s because after ten novels, the format is getting a little dull for me or if this one was just a fraction below the usual standard. I did not find the soccer mystery all that interesting and usually the clients Mma Ramotswe takes on tend to have more interesting problems than a losing soccer teams. And while I’ve always found the escapades involving the little white van amusing, I am ready to let the little white van go. It’s been a light-hearted plot device for quite a while now but there are times when things need to be let go and I think this time has been reached for the little white van. At times Mma Ramotswe’s grief for the little white van bordered on irritating, especially with the gift that her husband presented to her.

However I did like (and always like) the characters in this novel. Even the minor characters are so wonderful and I always enjoy reading the conversations and interactions. It was very rewarding after ten novels to learn more of one of Mr JLB Matakoni’s apprentices who are always laughing and joking in the background about girls but are rarely given more depth than that. In this novel that changes with one of them and I thought Mma Ramotswe’s interaction with his family was excellent.

Mma Makutsi’s little storyline was a good amusing secondary plot, bringing out her insecurities again about having landed a wealthy man such as Rra Radiphuti. She is always in fear of losing him, despite the fact that much is made of just how fine a man her fiance is. They’ve been engaged for some time now in these novels and I’d really like to see them married. This would bring about a whole new set of issues for them which I think could be used just as effectively as the obstacles McCall-Smith has been putting in their path.

These novels are always pleasing. They’re always novels you can curl up with on the couch and get lost in, chuckling along at the adventures and the day-to-day idiosyncrasies of all the characters. Whilst not my favourite, this novel was still infinitely enjoyable and I always enjoy revisiting Mma Ramotswe and her friends. They’re like a blanket you’ve kept from your childhood that you can’t bear to part with – warm and comforting but worn around the edges from so much use.

7/10

Book #86 of my 100 Book Challenge

I’m counting this novel as part of my 2010 Global Challenge.

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa: #1: A Change In Altitude, by Anita Shreve. Set in Kenya. #2 Tea Time For The Traditionally Built, by Alexander McCall Smith. Set in Botswana.
Asia: #1: The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani. Set in Persia/Iran. #2 February Flowers, by Fan Wu. Set in China.
Australasia: #1: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, by Leah Giarratano. Set in Sydney, Australia. #2 The Denniston Rose, by Jenny Pattrick. Set in Denniston, New Zealand.
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland.
North America (incl Central America): #1 Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood. Set in Toronto, Canada.
South America
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

This completes the African leg of my journey!


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