Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith has made a name for himself writing entertaining, gentle fiction. His most well known is probably his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series but he has several other delightful series as well. On occasion he writes stand-alone novels as well. Whether he's writing mystery or general fiction, series or stand-alone, McCall Smith has a certain feel, an amiable, calm, philosophical sensibility to his books. His latest, a stand-alone novel titled My Italian Bulldozer, is a lovely and thoughtful look at love and the sometimes incongruousness of life in the Tuscan countryside.

When Paul Stewart's girlfriend of four years runs off with her personal trainer, he is gutted, retreating from everything and everyone. Only when he almost misses the deadline for his latest food and wine book does he snap out of it. Because Paul is a famous writer and his long-suffering editor, Gloria, isn't going to let him be derailed by a relationship she didn't think much of. Deciding to immerse himself in the food and wine of the place he's writing about, Paul heads to a small hill town in Tuscany to complete his book. Getting there won't prove easy though as a complicated misunderstanding sees the kindly and sad Paul arrested for car theft after landing in Italy. Once he is released from jail, the only way to get himself to his destination is by rented bulldozer, which will prove a slow but interesting way to travel. Once he reaches the town of Montalcino, the accommodation and peaceful acceptance that characterized his trip remains as he parks his odd means of transportation in the car park on the edge of town.

The start of this book makes the reader suspend disbelief. A rental bulldozer? Really? But somehow McCall Smith makes this work and even uses this bumbling, almost ridiculous beginning to set the stage and thoroughly draw his main character's persona. Paul is a thoughtful and considerate, curious and lovely character who makes friends with everyone around him. The people he encounters are quirky and appealing and the countryside comes alive in this comfortable and charming read. The ending is rather predictable but it is the one that the reader wishes for Paul so although it isn't a surprise, it feels appropriate. Those who enjoy the affable charm of McCall Smith's previous books will find this short, quick read similarly pleasing in tone and narrative pacing. It's a light and happy read and might even make you wish you had your own rental bulldozer.

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