Title/Author: Pianos and Flowers by Alexander McCall Smith
In a nutshell (Publisher):
A delightful collection of stories and photographs from the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, imagining the lives and loves of everyday people in the twentieth century
Pictures capture moments in time, presenting the viewer with a window into another life. But a picture can go only so far. Who are the people in the image? What are their fears? What are their dreams?
The fourteen captivating tales in this collection are all inspired by photos from the Times of London archive. A young woman finds unexpected love while perusing Egyptian antiquities. A family is forever fractured when war comes to Penang, in colonial Malaysia. Iron Jelloid tablets help to reveal a young man’s inner strength. And twin sisters discover that it’s never too late to forge a new path—even when standing at the altar.
There are big stories behind these simple images. Though at first glance they may appear to represent small moments, these photographs in fact speak volumes, uncovering possibilities of love, friendship, and happiness. With his indomitable charm, Alexander McCall Smith takes us behind the lens to explore the hidden lives of those photographed; in so doing, he reveals the humanity in us all.
I’ve always wanted to read a book by Alexander McCall Smith but never really got to it, until now. And I’m happy to say I found this collection an absolute joy! I admire his skills for deftly turning plain-looking, black and white photographs that were from the archives of the Sunday Times, into little gems of very believable, beautiful, charming stories.
As with many anthologies, some you’d enjoy more than the rest. In Pianos and Flowers, some of my favorites were:
Pianos and Flowers, for one obvious reason, it was set in my home country, Malaysia, albeit only briefly. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, it centered around a family who spent part of their time in an island in Malaysia, called Penang, but later moved back to England, while the father stayed behind. We’d get a glimpse of the lives of Malaysians and Singaporeans too during the Japanese Occupation.
Sphinx was about Margaret, a 26-year-old woman whose new job in London led her to a meeting with a stranger sitting in a café. After coffee, he invited her for a stroll down to the river where he showed her the spot he frequented – the sculptures of the Sphinx which he loved. Somehow, she knew this man was the man she had been waiting for. After promising he’d write to her, they parted ways. She waited for his mail that never came. Will they ever meet again?
Iron Jelloids was like a beauty and the beast sort of love story, only the ‘beast’ was a mild, mousey man whom people saw would never find a woman who would love him, until one day when he saved a woman’s life; all thanks to Iron Jelloids, an iron tonic he consumed.
Maternal Designs was about a mother whose son was an architect. The mother trying to give suggestions about his career choices and to talk him out to being a builder, his dream career. Their argument back and forth was funny, entertaining and heartwarming. What was more, it had an unexpected ending!
In Zeugma, a professor gave a ride to one of his students, a beautiful Miss Thwaites, on his way to work, on his bicycle. They bonded over the English language, as he explained to her the meaning of zeugma. Their love for language hinted a possibility of a unique friendship ahead.
St John’s Wart was about a paranoid man who insisted that he and his wife moved to somewhere remote where it would be safer. The wife conveyed her worries about her husband to her neighbor, who suggested a solution which, much to the wife’s delight, worked.
Blackmail revolved around two street sweepers, one more senior in the job and age than the other. She informed him that her days weren’t spent just sweeping and cleaning the streets but also eavesdropping on conversations and people-watching, and one man who was a regular at a café, caught the newbie’s attention. A normal day at work, then led to quite an unexpected turn. This was such a fun read!
La Plage was a funny, amusing story about a woman just rattling off her thoughts to her husband, about her mother, her brother and his wife, then back again, without realizing he wasn’t really paying attention, and was lost in his own thoughts.
I am absolutely in love with this book (and the cover!) and so glad I got to read it, and can see myself re-reading it. Definitely a fantastic collection of 14 short stories! Dive in and take a short trip to London, Malaysia, China, even to Germany, spanning different centuries with Mr. Smith during your quarantine. I think you’d have a blast!
I also just found out from a Zoom interview, that he had had written another short stories collection before and it’s called ‘Chance Encounters’! I might check it out.
Thank you NetGalley and Patheon Books for the free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Have you read this book? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Or have you read books by the same author? Please share with me your thoughts!