Monday, March 16, 2009

The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom

"The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom" by Alexander McCall Smith is actually a three-in-one book which consists of a series of short stories previously published under the names "Portuguese Irregular Verbs", "The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs" and "At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances".

And as much as I really very much didn't like his other collections of short stories (see links below), pointless is their shared first name, I very much enjoyed these stories, this book, about the strangely naive yet equally weirdly full of himself declamatory German professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld.

Writing a much acclaimed - or at least he thinks so himself - book on Portugues irregular verbs apparently can turn people into pompous idiots. Such a person would be completely impossible to work or socialize with I very much suspect, though very entertaining to read about. One of his features being that he never admits to his mistakes or find it appropriate to correct any misconceptions hence putting and finding himself in the quirkiest of situations.

He can't stop musing about his colleague Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer's unbecomingly protruding large nose, he causes his other dear colleague professor Florianus Prinzel to get his nosetip sewn on upside down after a fencing accident, he travels on a secret mission with Santa Claus's bones through Italy, he becomes the president of Colombia and just because he's so occupied by how things look and not what they actually are he manages to unnecessarily amputate Unterholzer's dachshund's (sausage dog) legs.

He is far from likable, but strangely fascinating just the same. The mix of pompous detachment from the world and the way things work in that world, his lack of compassion and his nerdy obsession about all philological matters and they way he finds himself in seemingly mundande situations that in a blink of an eye turns into something from a crime novel makes for an overall fun and recommenable read.

The book would have improved without the chapter on the poor dachshund abuse though.

More books, recommended or not, by McCall Smith -
The Sunday Philosophy Club, Friend, Lovers & Chocolate, The Right Attitude To Rain, The Careful Use of Compliments - highly rec
Folk Tales from Africa - The Girl Who Married a Lion - not rec
Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations - not rec


Jan said...

I can't stomach McCall-Smith. We sell a ton of his work at the bookstore. It falls under different strokes for different folks.

Pia K said...

Myself I find the quality of his books to be very uneven, Jan. I truly love the Sunday Philosophy Club-series, the books and the way of thinking are just very me in a multilayered way. That they take place in Edinburgh and Scotland is just a huge plus.

His short stories collections I don't like at all. I enjoyed this one because of it's dry and nerdy academic humour. And I still have the first book in the the 44 Scotland series in my to read heap.

Anonymous said...

It´s weird, but I can picture some of my professors in this von Igelfeld person.

Pia K said...

Well, the world of academics is a weird and curious one everywhere, Tardis, oh I too can recollect a few professors here at Stockholm uni that fit the description of von Igelfeld...:)

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