Villainy in the novels of Alexander McCall Smith

I have been avidly reading the novels of Alexander McCall Smith for about twenty years, since I first discovered The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and avidly devoured the first four novels (all that was in the series at that time).

McCall Smith is quite prolific, and has since then started two other major series, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, and the Scotland Street novels, as well as several others which he picks up or puts down as time goes on (I have not seen Cordoroy Mansions in a while, whilst Professor Inglefeld has made a comeback, and I really enjoy his new Detective Varg series).

Having come out of lockdown recently, I have blitzed through the most current McCall Smith novels available, the latest of the Ladies Detective books, the third Detective Varg, and the newest of the Scotland Street books.

One of the very appealing things about McCall Smith is that he does not really have dark or villainous people in his books. Detective Varg is busy heading the Department of Sensitive Crimes, solving very strange puzzles which usually involve transgressions rather than victims, and husband stealing Violet Sepotho in the Ladies Detective books is usually showing up on the sidelines trying to gain some sort of unearned advantage only to be eventually thwarted by Precious Ramotswe and her cohorts.

There is usually a very bright and optimistic perspective on human nature in his writings.

There is, I think, one exception. That is the character of Irene Pollock in the Scotland Street novels. She is the mother of the long suffering seven year old Bertie, and (thankfully now estranged) wife of Stuart Pollock.

Irene is a misandrist, with a bleak view of males in general (although with the obvious exception of her lover, the psychiatrist in Aberdeen whom she has now joined, having deserted her husband and sons in Edinburgh).

What makes her a villain is the emotional and psychological abuse to which she has put her son Bertie (Ulysses, the obvious love child of the psychiatrist lover) and husband Stuart during the course of the novels, given her rampant misandry. Stuart has been gaslighted constantly over the novels, whereas Bertie has been regarded not as a boy, but as a ‘project’, who is forced to attend psychoanalysis, yoga, and Italian classes, where all he really wants to do is join the scouts, own a pen knife, and play rugby. Instead, Bertie has his nascent masculinity suppressed by his misandrist (and now mostly absentee) mother.

It does get difficult to read the passages involving the odious Irene without getting angry, and hoping that something rather more bad happens to her than to any of the other characters who get their comeuppances in McCall Smith’s novels.

Whilst there are many people, like Irene (who left Stuart under the pretence of starting a PhD in Aberdeen where her lover had moved to) who are very educated but still not very intelligent, out there in the real world, one really hopes that she is just a straw woman, and that such dogmatic misandrists like her do not exist in real life.

Sadly, I am probably wrong. After all, I have a passing acquaintance with the utterances of Clementine Ford, who is quite real.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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