Three days later, an email arrived. My book was ready to be read. All I had to do was get myself to the branch and pick it up. I finished the Anne Perry Christmas story I was devouring and found my book on the Reserve Shelf.
It was brand new. I was the first patron to open the binding of the large type edition. It was thrilling. I am not exaggerating. There's a wonderful frisson I feel every time I open a new book. The fact that I wasn't paying for the book made it all the sweeter.
(Yes, I pay taxes for the library and I donate to The Friends of the Library, but no funds changed hands for the privilege of reading this particular tome. This disclaimer is for those of you who insist that I care more about the story than the facts.)The pages were bright white. The binding allowed the book to lie flat on a table while I ate breakfast. I found no grammatical errors.
That's all the positive thoughts I have on this book. I suppose it could have been worse; Emma and the Zombies comes to mind. But this was one time where I read quickly just so that the experience could end.
It wasn't bad enough to put down before I finished, but it came close.
This was a special disappointment, because I love Alexander McCall Smith. I've never had this reaction to one of his books, and I've read them all. It was totally unexpected and completely awful and I can't figure out why. Smith has a deft and gentle touch when describing the foibles of his characters. None of them are perfect, yet he loves them all. Even the most selfish and self-centered of them are treated with respect; their depths are plumbed and we begin to understand the why's and wherefores, without anything being explicitly stated.
For some reason, he decided to take a heavy hand with Emma. It reads like a romance novel. Emma's transition from brat to awareness happens with all the subtlety of a monsoon electric storm. It flashes brightly from the page, thunking the reader with a sledgehammer of obviousness. Jane Austen let it unfold slowly; Smith clangs the cymbals and rolls out the carpet.
Up to, through, and after this point, Emma remains unlikable. There is no reason for Mr. Knightley to love her; she brings nothing to the equation. She is thoughtless and rude, the beneficiary of a second-rate education. She is dull, does nothing, and doesn't seem to mind. While I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen's Emma, she's a rock star when compared to Smith's.
Read The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency, series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the love stories on the train. But stay away from this one.
You have been warned.