I’ve finished one of the books I promised to read this year! Cue confetti flying, fireworks whizzing. The No. 1. Ladies’ Detective Agency is a book that, for some reason, you always picture your grandmother reading.
Alexander McCall Smith is an interesting dude, born in Zimbabwe, co-founder and teacher at the University of Botswana. So he’s definitely got the cred to be writing about the place, my first consideration when I picked up the book.
In the honored tradition of the critique sandwich, I will go good-bad-good. I absolutely loved the character of Precious Ramotswe. Savvy, funny, serious, and determined, her self-confidence was one of my elements of the book. From childhood she is conditioned to be clever and observant, and to take no shit from men.
Which makes it all the more out of place when she falls prey to an abusive relationship. I don’t want to make light of this issue: sexual assault and marital abuse are something many, many women face, and we shouldn’t not talk about it. But I do question the aptness of using it as a plot device in this particular instance, after a buildup of Precious’ character as someone unlikely to fall victim to this brand of violence. To me it felt abrupt and out of character, and I was taken aback by the suddenness of its appearance.
Precious’ concession to marriage at the end of the book to Mr. J.L. B. Matekone (another great character) felt out of place to me as well. While we see him as lovestruck and longing for Precious’ companionship, her thoughts on marriage remain clear until the very last page: that she is content to be unmarried, in fact, she is strongly opposed to remarrying. We see no evidence of this changing before she concedes to his second marriage proposal on the last page of the book. A bit unbelievable.
Criticism aside, I loved so many things about this book. Precious’ use of Agatha Christie to lend validity to her detective agency, the connection she felt to her homeland: Precious loves Africa, loves Botswana, with a such a forceful wonder. Precious loved herself fiercely also, as a fat woman, as a damn good detective. And she was staunch throughout, never doubting that she could handle any case, from missing dogs to malicious witchdoctors.
I would definitely recommend this book. It is an engaging, quick read, with an incredibly lovable narrator. I probably won’t read the rest of the series right now, but I’ll be trying out the TV series.