Pianos and Flowers
By Alexander McCall Smith
Rated: 5 stars *****
Pianos and Flowers is a book of short stories by the man who has brought so many excellent series, such as The No1 Ladies Detective Agency and many more.
Pianos and Flowers is an exquisitely written short story within itself that also has other short stories within. Each location is primarily in Scotland. Some settings are Glasgow, Dundee with other places mentioned such as Stirling, Broughty Ferry, Dunfermline, Perth, Aberdeen and more… There are also other locations too, such as Cambridge and more…
There are interesting photos throughout, which go well with each story. It’s most definitely worth a read. I’ve written some short reviews of some of the stories.
Please do check out the blurb and the reviews below. I also have another book by Alexander McCall Smith I am reviewing soon for you. All with many thanks to Knopf Double Day Publishing Group.
From the beloved and best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, a charming collection of stories about life and romance
In these fourteen delightful tales, Alexander McCall Smith imagines the lives and loves behind some of the everyday people featured in pictures from the London Sunday Times photographic archive. A young woman finds unexpected love while perusing Egyptian antiquities. A family is forever fractured when war comes to Penang, in colonial Malaysia. Iron Jelloid tablets help to reveal a young man’s inner strength. And twin sisters discover that romance can blossom anywhere—even at the altar.
Throughout Pianos and Flowers, McCall Smith employs his indomitable charm to explore the possibilities of love, friendship, and happiness.
The book starts with Piano and Flowers and an exquisite photograph of the characters that draws the eye in and along to some unusual topiary. The photograph becomes essential to the story. It’s like when you’re in an art gallery, looking at the beautiful paintings and photographs and working out what the artist is telling you or making up a story to fit what you observe.
I love the way Pianos and Flowers all unfolds. It’s observant and thoughtful and takes readers from the garden in the photo to life further afield, the image in the photograph is central to the writing. At the end you are asked to actually look at the photo again. By this time you have names to the people within it and know about their lives. Readers will also learn about the piano and flowers and their significance.
I’d Cry Buckets has another photo of rolling Scottish hills and people with a pony. This time, it’s written differently, more how people are used to reading a shory, perhaps, in its style, and yet the photograpgh depicts the landscape Bruce and David are in. What to do with life though? Go travelling or university? These are the decisions that have to be made and if it is uni, then which one? Oxford or St. Andrews? The story is thought-provoking with pangs of sadness and so desperately I find myself wanting it to work out for the pair. The writing is so evocative and is more than some coming-of-age stories. It goes further in telling more of their lives, beyond their youth.
Sphynx – At 26 years old, the daughter of a greengrocer at the Firth of Clyde. It’s about from being around the Clyde shipyards and the Gorbals to moving around a bit to London to finding a chance of frendship. I like that she’s a strong woman who tries to avoid self-pity as much as she can. It’s a fascinating story of different lives and bits of society, as well as an interest in all things Egyptian.
Maternal Designs – Richard’s father was a successful builder in Stirling and his mother, a daughter of a Dundee Jute Merchant were ambitious for him and wanted him to go to University – not just any one, but Cambridge. He himself isn’t quite so ambitious. He becomes an architect and highlights the differences in how men and women view a home. It’s also interesting how Stirling is viewed in this particular story and the ambition that ensues.
Anthropology is the main theme of The Dwarf Tale-Teller of the Romanian Rom and Dr. anthropologist, Edwina McLeod, wants to study headhunting and it isn’t the sort of headhunting western countries would think. There are songs and rituals and rating history in villages within this, where she meets the Rom people, who are very particular, and a story-telling dwarf who readers can find out if actually is willing to impart in a traditional tale or not.
In Dotty, there are twins in Glasgow and that question if dressing them the same is what is wanted or stifling individuality and whether there really is “equal-ranking” among them.
Zeugma is interesting and says some truth about changing trends. There’s an older librarian who complains about the clothing of one of the library patrons and a younger librarian who thinks he’s rather stuffy. There is a day when the young librarian is offered a shared bike ride on the way to work by a distinguished professor, when most don’t learn any junior’s name. This one seems different. This is when readers can learn what Zeugma is, on this unexpected, interesting, scenic ride.
From Urchans in Scotland, with connections to many Scottish places, they became successful in various ways and there was one who chanced his luck and later became an actor. It becomes an intriguing story as there’s one who carries a box and it’s written in a way that really, you do want to find out its contents. It has twists and turns that are unexpected as some are dark and yet full of intrigue from beginning to end.
St.John’s Wort shows there is so much a person can worry about, even in the 60’s from the paths countries have taken that lead to Communism. After all, Communism doesn’t just happen. There’s always a road as it were, that leads a country there, step by step, whether the people in that country realise its gradual process to it is happening or not. Finally, people were getting worried and Brian is perhaps more so than most, but also perhaps a bit more cautious than most and being a bit more depressed than most. It shows the “power” of St. John’s Wort.
Blackmail is about having a job that is right at the bottom of the jobs pile, the bottom rung. It’s also about a professional blackmailer lurking around.
La Plage is the final story takes place at the beach, complete with bathing machines. It has some humour, and apparently one of the character’s mother’s is actually right about something! It’s a fascinating story with the perfect ending line to finish off this book of short stories.