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McCall Smith's tasty amuse-bouche

Books & Poetry

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Prolific Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith introduces another eccentric yet endearing character in his new mini-novel Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, which he cutely describes as a “literary amuse-bouche”.

Cornelius Patrick (aka Fatty) O’Leary is an antiques dealer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As his nickname suggests, he is somewhat rotund. An unkind person might even call him obese, but Fatty himself seems little bothered by his girth and generally content with his lot in life. And why shouldn’t he be? He has a lovely wife, Betty, a good job and two close friends, Tubby and Porky, with whom he regularly meets to play poker and Mahjong.

But when Fatty and Betty embark on a holiday in Ireland to celebrate his 40th birthday, their happy equilibrium and optimistic outlook are seriously tested. The trip was supposed to be a chance for them to connect with their Irish roots, but things just keep going wrong. Plane seats and baths are too small, and the Irish … well, they’re just not what one might expect:

“The main objection to Ireland was its Irishness, or rather its wrong sort of Irishness. Everybody at home knew what it was to be Irish, and behaved accordingly, with St Patrick’s Day parades and sentimental dinners. But did the Irish themselves know how to be Irish?”

McCall Smith – author of the popular 44 Scotland Street and No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and a guest at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week – has a sharp wit which is evident in his characterisations and commentary on class, as well as in the Americans’ clichéd  perceptions of the “Mother Country”. However, to describe this latest tale as “screamingly funny” – as the author’s website does – is an exaggeration; Fatty and Betty’s humiliating experiences are a bit too wretched for that.

The saving grace of Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party – which really is appetiser-sized at just 175 pages – is McCall Smith’s familiar charming, quirky style, as well as the inherent good-humour and resilience of his main characters. And you can always count on a happy ending … can’t you?

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, by Alexander McCall Smith, New South Books, $21.99

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, by Alexander McCall Smith, New South Books, $21.99

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