Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Corduroy Mansions

Alexander McCall Smith, author of a number of popular series (such as the Number 1 Ladies' Detective series), has been writing his "first online novel."

A few months ago, the Telegraph (a UK newspaper) began releasing, online, one new chapter per day. I found the concept intriguing. It reminded me of the way Charles Dickens wrote several of his novels: they were published chapter by chapter in the newspaper. This struck me as being very much the same thing, only for the 21st century. So, I decided to read along (actually, I chose to listen to the audio version, also released day by day), and the book will be finished this week, on Friday, the 13th of February.

As it happens, I have never read anything else by Alexander McCall Smith, but I enjoyed the early chapters enough to keep going. I actually felt that the book mirrored Dickens in a few other ways, as it highlighted current social issues, and presented a range of characters from very different walks of life.

For the past few weeks, I've been a little disturbed because there were loose ends and abandoned plot lines scattered in every direction. A couple of weeks ago, I thought, "How is he going to pull this all together and finish off in just two more weeks." The chapters are short! Now, today I listened to chapter 98 of the 100 planned chapters, and I am in a state of disbelief. However this finishes off, it isn't going to "end" in any way that I recognize as a normal ending. There is simply no possible way to close the gaps, or bring every thread to some kind of reasonable conclusion.

What is this all about? Is this the way Alexander McCall Smith usually ends his books? Or was the chapter-every-day demand too difficult to maintain at the same time as a coherent plot?

Otherwise, I have enjoyed the story. There is a great deal of understated humor, random musings on every subject under the sun, and interesting characters who end up doing outrageous things. Not all of the characters were well-developed, of course. I think some were introduced, but just didn't fit the flow of the story.

The book will be issued in normal book format sometime in 2009, and I don't know how much longer it will be available online. If you're interested, take a look soon.


Well, I have now finished the book, and no, it certainly did not end in a neat and tidy way. Alexander McCall Smith agrees,and has basically indicated his intentions of calling these first 100 chapters "Volume 1," and continuing the story.

I'm not entirely sure Corduroy Mansions, as it is, is really a novel at all. But it is fun, and if you don't mind never finding out exactly what happened when Hugh was kidnapped in Columbia or how the book Autobiography of a Yeti is received when (if?) it is published, jump right in and enjoy the ride.


At 4:27 PM , Blogger Laura said...

McCall Smith wrote a series of novels in serial form a few years ago for a newspaper in Scotland, and they were printed as the "44 Scotland Street" books. I like them very much, but I also have enjoyed his Isabel Dalhousie books and I love (yes, LOVE) his No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

I didn't know about this online serial book, but I'm glad you reviewed it, as I'd like to check it out.

At 4:29 PM , Blogger Laura said...

I meant to mention that I listened to much of 44 Scotland Street and one of the others in that series as audio books, and thought they worked very well in that format. Each chapter ended with a bit of a cliff-hanger, and there were numerous characters and plots to follow. Very good for keeping one awake while on a long trip!


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