Advent calendar 21st December – A book set where you live

44 Scotland Street

Living in Edinburgh, I have a multitude of books to choose for this category. Rebus roams the streets solving crime, as does Isabel Dalhousie while Jean Brodie visits Cramond – formerly a village now a suburb – on the edge of the city. Esme Lennox is confined in an asylum, giving an insight into how ‘inconvenient’ women were treated in the 1930s and ’40s in Maggie’s O’Farrell’s wonderful The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox while in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh we come face-to-face with the heroin addicts of 1980s Edinburgh. If I still lived in my home town of Worcester things would be harder – Radclyffe Hall was born in the county and MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin lives in nearby Evesham but that’s about it.

The book I’ve chosen though is 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, originally written as a daily serial for The Scotsman newspaper. Scotland Street is a real place, although there’s no number 44, and the characters that live in the flats that make up that building are very real to anyone who lives in the city centre as I do. There is Irene, the painfully pushy mother of the hapless Bertie; Angus the painter and ostensible master of Cyril, the dog with a gold tooth; Bruce the narcissist and Pat his luckless flatmate; anthropologist Domenica McDonald… so many, all so sharply drawn and, although exaggerated, instantly recognisable to anyone who walks through the New Town past those flats and drinks coffee in the cafes there. Edinburgh is a village and these are its people. Almost. Well worth reading if you haven’t already – the way that McCall Smith uses language is a joy and his story-telling is warm and perceptive.

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