THE 2½ Pillars of Wisdom By Alexander McCall Smith.
Welcome to the extraordinary world of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, an unnaturally tall and memorable character whose sublime insouciance is a blend of the cultivated pomposity of Frasier Crane and Inspector Clouseau's haples gaucherie.
Von Igelfeld inhabits the rarefied world of the Institute of Romance Philology at Regensburg, which he shares with his equally tall and equally ridiculous colleagues, Professors Florianus Prinzel and Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer.
We follow von Igelfeld from his student days, through his search for ancient Irish obscenities to an aching infatuation with a dentist fatale and a Venetian sojourn. Among the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, von Igelfeld is dogged by dachshunds, and aboard a Mediterranean cruise ship he quickly finds himself the star attraction.
Having read another book by this author, who is perhaps best known for his "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" novels as recently televised on the BBC, and finding it rather bland and very predictable, I was surprised to find myself reading this one but then it had come highly recommended by another member of my book club.
I was straight away taken by this novel, a trilogy incorporating "Portuguese Irregular Verbs", "The Finer Points Of Sausage Dogs" and "At The Villa Of Reduced Circumstances", such was the simplicity of its front cover and besides which, with my love of hedgehogs, how could I fail to enjoy a book with a main character called von Igelfeld? Igelfeld, of course, translating from German as Hedgehog Field.
As a whole it was cleverly written, very well observed (Especially the cultural differences. An example of this perhaps being as von Igelfeld pointed out " The English were very difficult to read; half the things they said were not meant to be taken seriously, but it was impossible, if you were German, to detect which half") and extremely witty with a twist in every tale though perhaps slightly less so in the third instalment. I very rarely laugh out loud reading any book but found myself doing just that on several occasions. The passage involving von Igelfeld's visit to Goa and the subsequent incident which sees Professor J.G.K.L. Singh's train fall off a railway bridge and into a river where "Our dear colleague was spared drowning, but was sadly inconvenienced by a crocodile" still has me giggling days later.
An entertaining read from start to finish, which just goes to prove that even if you don't enjoy one book by an author it is sometimes well worth at least considering reading another, I shall certainly be buying a copy for our home library.