Corduroy Mansions

Paperback | May 31, 2011

byAlexander Mccall SmithIllustratorIain Mcintosh

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From the author of the global bestseller The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency comes a brand-new novel — the start of a new series — set in the heart of London.

"Corduroy Mansions" is the affectionate nickname given to a genteelly crumbling mansion block in London's vibrant Pimlico. This is the home patch of — among others — a lovelorn literary agent, possibly the first ever nasty Liberal Democrat MP and Freddie de la Hay, an urbane terrier trained to be vegetarian and respectful of feline rights, and with the ability to fasten his own seatbelt.

Sandy has delivered a whole new cast of incredible characters including, but not limited to: Berthea Snark, psychoanalyst and unwilling mother to Oedipus Snark (the nasty Lib Dem). William French, wine merchant living in Corduroy Mansions, and lover of wines of the Bordeaux region. Marcia Light, proprietrix of Marcia's Table with her sights set on William. Barbara Ragg, lover of Oedipus Snark — would like to marry him; would like to marry anybody.

Loafers, wine merchants, vitamin evangelists and the occasional psychoanalyst pass each other on the stairs of this delightful metropolitan des res. With his trademark wit, charm and lightness of touch, Alexander McCall Smith introduces a colourful cast of characters, full of the life, laughter and humanity so beloved in his writing.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From the Publisher

From the author of the global bestseller The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency comes a brand-new novel — the start of a new series — set in the heart of London."Corduroy Mansions" is the affectionate nickname given to a genteelly crumbling mansion block in London's vibrant Pimlico. This is the home patch of — among others — a lovelorn lit...

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has se...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.04 × 5.14 × 0.81 inPublished:May 31, 2011Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:030739834X

ISBN - 13:9780307398345

Customer Reviews of Corduroy Mansions

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Corduroy Mansions Quirky and amusing
Date published: 2014-08-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Read! If one has read, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie and/or 44 Scotland St. series, then one knows that AMS doesn't write books with "exciting" plot lines and very often not a lot happens, he's a writer of characters! (in response to the first 2 reviews listed here). Just finished this book & it was better than his "stand alone" books I also just finished - La's Orchestra Saves the World & The Forever Girl. Looking forward to reading the continuing story in the 2nd book of this series.
Date published: 2014-07-03

Extra Content

Read from the Book

1. In the BathroomPassing off, thought William. Spanish sparkling wine-filthy stuff, he thought, filthy-passed itself off as champagne. Japanese whisky-Glen Yakomoto!-was served as Scotch. Inferior hard cheese-from Mafia-run factories in Catania-was sold to the unsuspecting as Parmesan.Lots of things were passed off in one way or another, and now, as he stood before the bathroom mirror, he wondered if he could be passed off too. He looked at himself, or such part of himself as the small mirror encompassed-just his face, really, and a bit of neck. It was a fifty-one-year-old face chronologically, but would it pass, he wondered, for a forty-something-year-old face?He looked more closely: there were lines around the eyes and at the edge of the mouth but the cheeks were smooth enough. He pulled at the skin around the eyes and the lines disappeared. There were doctors who could do that for you, of course: tighten things up; nip and tuck. But the results, he thought, were usually risible. He had a customer who had gone off to some clinic and come back with a face like a Noh-play mask-all smoothed out and flat. It was sad, really. And as for male wigs, with their stark, obvious hairlines, all one wanted to do was to reach forward and give them a tug. It was quite hard to resist, actually, and once, as a student-and when drunk-he had done just that. He had tugged at the wig of a man in a bar and . . . the man had cried. He still felt ashamed of himself for that. Best not to think about it.No, he was weathering well enough and it was far more dignified to let nature take its course, to weather in a National Trust sort of way. He looked again at his face. Not bad. The sort of face, he thought, that would be hard to describe on the Wanted poster, if he were ever to do anything to merit the attention of the police-which he had not, of course. Apart from the usual sort of thing that made a criminal of everybody: "Wanted for illegal parking," he muttered. "William Edward French (51). Average height, very slightly overweight (if you don't mind our saying so), no distinguishing features. Not dangerous, but approach with caution."He smiled. And if I were to describe myself in one of those lonely hearts ads? Wine dealer, widower, solvent, late forties-ish, GSOH, reasonable shape, interested in music, dining out etc., etc., WLTM presentable, lively woman with view to LTR.That would be about it. Of course one had to be careful about the choice of words in these things; there were codes, and one might not be aware of them. "Solvent" was clear enough: it meant that one had sufficient money to be comfortable, and that was true enough. He would not describe himself as well off, but he was certainly solvent. "Well off," he had read somewhere, now meant disposable assets of over . . . how much? More than he had, he suspected.And "reasonable shape"? Well, if that was not strictly speaking true at present, it would be shortly. William had joined a gym and been allocated a personal trainer. If his shape at present was not ideal, it soon would be, once the personal trainer had worked on him. It would take a month or two, he thought, not much more than that. So perhaps one might say, shortly to be in reasonable shape.Now, what about: would like to meet presentable, lively woman. Well, presentable was a pretty low requirement. Virtually anybody could be presentable if they made at least some effort. Lively was another matter. One would have to be careful about lively because it could possibly be code for insatiable, and that would not do. Who would want to meet an insatiable woman? My son, thought William suddenly. That's exactly the sort of woman Eddie would want to meet. The thought depressed him.William lived with his son. There had been several broad hints dropped that Eddie might care to move out and share with other twenty- somethings, and recently a friend of Eddie's had even asked him if he wanted to move into a shared flat, but these hints had apparently fallen on unreceptive ground. "It's quite an adventure, Eddie," William said. "Everybody at your stage of life shares a flat. Like those girls downstairs. Look at the fun they have. Most people do it.""You didn't."William sighed. "My circumstances, Eddie, were a bit different.""You lived with Grandpa until he snuffed it.""Precisely. But I had to, don't you see? I couldn't leave him to look after himself.""But I could live with you until you snuff it.""That's very kind of you. But I'm not planning to snuff it just yet."Then there had been an offer to help with a mortgage-to pay the deposit on a flat in Kentish Town. William had even gone so far as to contact an agent and find a place that sounded suitable. He had looked at it without telling Eddie, meeting the agent one afternoon and being shown round while a litany of the flat's-and the area's-advantages was recited.William had been puzzled. "But it doesn't appear to have a kitchen," he pointed out.The agent was silent for a moment. "Not as such," he conceded. "No. That's correct. But there's a place for a sink and you can see where the cooker used to be. So that's the kitchen space. Nowadays people think in terms of a kitchen space. The old concept of a separate kitchen is not so important. People see past a kitchen."In spite of the drawbacks, William had suggested that Eddie should look at the place and had then made his proposition. He would give him the deposit and guarantee the mortgage."Your own place," he said. "It's ideal."Eddie looked doubtful. "But it hasn't got a kitchen, Dad. You said so. No kitchen."William took this in his stride. "It has a kitchen space, Eddie. People see past an actual kitchen these days. Didn't you know that?"But Eddie was not to be moved. "It's kind of you, Dad. I appreciate the offer, but I think it's premature. I'm actually quite comfortable living at home. And it's greener, isn't it? Sharing. It makes our carbon footprint much smaller."And so William found himself living with his twenty-four-year-old son. Wine dealer, he thought, would like his son to meet a lively woman with view to his moving in with her. Permanently. Any area.He turned away from the bathroom mirror and stooped down to run his morning bath. It was a Friday, which meant that he would open the business half an hour late, at ten-thirty rather than ten. This meant that he could have his bath and then his breakfast in a more leisurely way, lingering over his boiled egg and newspaper before setting off; a small treat, but a valued one.There was a knocking on the door, soft at first and then more insistent."You're taking ages, Dad. What are you doing in there?"He did not reply."Dad? Would you mind hurrying up? Or do you want me to be late?"William turned and faced the door. He stuck out his tongue."Don't be so childish," came the voice from the other side of the door.Childish? thought William. Well, you've got a little surprise coming your way, Eddie, my boy.2. Corduroy MattersThe flat occupied by William and Eddie was on the top floor of the four-storey building in Pimlico known as Corduroy Mansions. It was not a typical London mansion block. The name had been coined-in jest, yet with a considerable measure of condescension-by a previous tenant, but Corduroy Mansions had stuck, and a disparaging nickname had become a fond one. There was something safe about corduroy, something reassuring, and while corduroy might be an ideological near neighbour of tweed, it was not quite as . . . well, tweedy. So while William would have been appalled to hear himself described as tweedy, he would not have resented being called corduroy. There was something slightly bohemian about corduroy; it was a sign, perhaps, of liberality of outlook, of openness to alternatives-of a slightly artistic temperament.Corduroy Mansions had been built in the early twentieth century, in a fit of Arts and Crafts enthusiasm. It was an era when people still talked to one another, in sentences; that had since become unusual, but at least the occupants of all the Corduroy flats still conversed- at least sometimes-with their neighbours, and even appeared to enjoy doing so. "It's got a lived-in feel," one of the residents remarked, and that was certainly true. Whereas in more fashionable blocks down the road in Eaton Square, or the like, there would be flats that lay unoccupied for most of the year, or flats occupied by exotic, virtually invisible people, wealthy wraiths who slipped in and out of their front doors without a word to neighbours, everyone with a flat in Corduroy Mansions actually lived there. They had no other place. Corduroy Mansions was home.The staircase was the setting for most of these personal encounters, although every so often there would be a meeting at which all the tenants got together to discuss matters of mutual interest. There were the meetings that took place in William's flat over the new carpet for the stairs-an issue that took six months of delicate negotiation to resolve-and there was also a meeting over what colour to paint the front door. On these occasions it was inevitably William who took the chair, being not only the oldest resident, but also the one most endowed with the gravitas necessary to deal with the landlord, a faceless company in Victoria that appeared to ignore any letters it received."They're in denial," said William. "We've got them for the next one hundred and twenty years and they're in denial."But the landlord eventually did what was required, and although Corduroy Mansions could not be described as being in good order, at least it did not appear to be falling down."This old place suits me," remarked William to his friend Marcia. "It's like an old glove, familiar and comfortable.""Or an old sock, even," said Marcia, sniffing the air. Marcia was always ready to detect a smell, and she had often remarked on a slight odour on the staircase.Marcia was a caterer. Ten years previously she had set up Marcia's Table, a firm that specialised in catering for small weddings, board lunches and the like. Actually, to call Marcia's Table a firm was to dignify it beyond what it deserved. Marcia's Table consisted of Marcia and nobody else, other than the helpers she engaged to serve and clear up: young Australians, Poles, Romanians, eager all of them-to a fault- and totally free of the casual surliness that plagued their British contemporaries. It was Marcia who planned the menus, bought the supplies and cooked. And it was Marcia who frequently brought leftovers to Corduroy Mansions and left them in William's flat. He had provided her with a key-in an impulsive gesture of friendship-and would sometimes come home to discover a pot of goulash sitting on the cooker, or half a plate of only-the-tiniest-bit-soggy chicken vol-au- vents, or cocktail sausages impaled on little sticks, like pupae in a butterfly collection.It was thoughtfulness on her part, touched, perhaps, by the slightest hint of ambitious self-interest. Marcia liked William; she liked him a great deal. It was a tragedy, she thought, that he was on his own; what a waste of a perfectly good man! For his part, he had never shown any interest in her beyond that which one has in a comfortable friend- the sort of interest that stops well short of any gestures of physical affection. She understood: a woman can tell these things, especially one as sympathetic and emotionally sensitive as Marcia believed herself to be. No, William had shown no signs of wanting closeness, but that did not mean that he might not do so in the future. So she continued with her culinary overtures and he, replete on vol-au-vents, reflected on his good fortune to have such a friend as Marcia. But in his mind she was just a friend, firmly on that side of the line.The stumbling block, Marcia thought, was Eddie. If William were truly on his own, and not sharing with his son, then she felt it likely that he would be more receptive to the idea of a relationship with a woman. Having his son there distracted him and took the edge off his loneliness. If only Eddie were to go-and it was surely time for him to fly the nest-then her own prospects would be better.Unfortunately, Marcia had once let slip her low opinion of Eddie, incautiously describing him as a "waste of space." It had been unwise- she knew that-but it had been said, and it had been said when Marcia, who had been visiting William after catering for a rather trying reception, had had perhaps two glasses of wine too many. Eddie had been in the flat, listening to the conversation from the corridor. Nobody likes to be described in such terms, and he had pursed his lips in anger. He waited for his father to defend him, as any father must do when his own flesh and blood, his own DNA, is described as a waste of space. He waited."That's a bit hard on the boy," his father said at last. "Give him time. He's only twenty-four."Perhaps Marcia regretted her slip, since she said nothing more. But then Eddie heard William say: "Of course, there's a theory in psychology that many men only mature at the age of twenty-eight. You've heard of that? Seems a bit late to me, but that's what they say."Eddie had turned round and slunk back into his room, a Polonius in retreat from behind the arras. That woman, he thought, that blowsy woman is after my dad. And if she gets him, then she gets the lot when he snuffs it-the flat, the wine business, the old Jaguar. The lot. She has to be stopped.Then he thought: Twenty-eight? Twenty-eight?3. Dee Is Rude About OthersAs William locked his front door behind him that morning, he heard the sound of somebody fiddling with keys on the landing downstairs. This was nothing unusual: the girls, as he called them, had a difficult lock, and unless one inserted the key at precisely the right angle and then exerted a gentle upward pressure, it would not work. It was not unusual, he had noted, for the locking-up process to take five or ten minutes; on one occasion he had gone out to buy a newspaper and returned to discover one of the young women still struggling with the recalcitrant lock.As he made his way downstairs, he saw that it was Dee on the landing below."Having trouble with the key?" he asked jauntily.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. This book was originally published online in serialized chapters. Do you find it flows differently than other novels by Alexander McCall Smith? If so, how?2. Alexander McCall Smith said of Corduroy Mansions: "These stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots." Pick your favorite character and explain what you think makes him or her tick.3. Freddie de la Hay is given as much personality as the humans in this story, yet his previous owner only refers to him as a social experiment. What do you think about training a dog to wear a seat belt and be a vegetarian?4. Which of the characters do you most identify with? Is this also your favorite character?5. Marcia seems to be manipulating William's living situation to fit her needs. Is this because she is lonely? Does she have William's best interest at heart?6. Eddie is not a positive character in this story. How much of Eddie's behavior appears to be typical of an early-twenty-something? Are William's opinions guided too much by Marcia? What is your opinion of Eddie by the end of the book?7. The problem of the Poussin painting garners different reactions from the characters involved with it. William sees a moral quandary in dealing with his son. Marcia doesn't even think of the moral implications. What would you do if you were William?8. Caroline wishes to help James discover the truth behind his proclivities, but she also wants to date him. Do you think Caroline is more self-interested or more altruistic?9. As Jenny leaves Basil Wickramsinghe's apartment, she overhears his visitor asking if Jenny is "a sympathiser." What could this mean? Do you think he is involved in an illegal activity?10. Jenny works for the odious Oedipus Snark. The MP clearly does not treat her well, nor any other woman with whom he interacts. Why do you think Jenny works for him? Why does Barbara Ragg stay with Snark?11. Oedipus seems a little too interested in Barbara's new book. What would he do with the tale of a Yeti? How would public reaction to the announcement of finding a Yeti help his career?12. Berthea Snark is writing a distinctly non-hagiography of her son. What does this say about her as a mother? Why do you think she's doing it? Why do you think she named him Oedipus?13. Terence Moongrove is a bit absentminded. Does his sister, Berthea, overreact to his eccentricities, or is she simply protecting him? What could they learn from each other?14. Barbara Ragg's new beau seems too good to be true. Do you trust Hugh? How is your opinion of Hugh influenced by Barbara's previous poor instincts with men?15. Many of the characters in this book have feelings of loneliness. Name one and explain what his or her loneliness has driven that person to do. Who finds a way to dispel the feeling, and how is it done?

Editorial Reviews

NATIONAL BESTSELLER“This cheerful novel is more about personalities than events. . . . Corduroy Mansions, like all McCall Smith’s books, is gentle and genteel . . . . Cosy and comfortable.” The Vancouver Sun “Corduroy Mansions is like the cloth of its title — comfortable, easy, homey. . . .  McCall Smith, a master of weaving the many strands of his complex stories together, does so here with supreme virtuosity. He . . . remains deeply affectionate toward his flawed cast. And so, Dear Reader, will you.” The Washington Post “The creator of the successful No. 1 Ladies’  Detective Agency series returns with a new cast of characters to love. . . . Alexander McCall Smith is a writer of such fond, heartfelt geniality that at the end of this cozy read, fans will be grateful that the series has just begun.” Entertainment Weekly“Corduroy Mansions is the beginning of a new series for McCall Smith, and, once again, he doesn’t disappoint. . . . McCall Smith’s characters are, for the most part, the best of what you want people to be­­. . . . In general they have a warmth and depth to their character that is almost profound. . . . His books are beach books, they are airport books, they are summer and winter books, they are books that make you want to embrace life. Corduroy Mansions is another gem to add to the pile.” The Globe and Mail