This is a recent “one-off” novel by Alexander McCall Smith, by which I mean that it is not part of a series. He is best known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which I absolutely love – I own all of those books. He also writes many other serialized books including the 44 Scotland Street series, The Sunday Philosophy Club series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. While he is continuing, fortunately, to write books in these series (such as Precious and Grace, which I wrote about earlier this year), he does occasionally write stand-alone books such as My Italian Bulldozer. Although I haven’t become addicted to any of his other series as I have to his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, he is such a good writer, and such a prolific one, that you can be assured of a good read whenever you pick up one of his books.
This is exactly how I would describe My Italian Bulldozer. It tells the story of Paul Stuart, a successful food writer in Scotland, who is heartbroken after his girlfriend, Becky, dumps him for another man (that too, her personal trainer, which seems to add insult to injury!), and goes to stay in Italy for a few weeks. He is ostensibly going to wrap up his cookbook on Tuscan food and wine at the suggestion of his editor, Gloria, who is secretly in love with him and thinks it would do him good to get away and have a change of scene. Once he lands in Italy, some unexpected snafus cause him to first be arrested and spend some time in a jail, and once he is released, to have a bulldozer as the only rental option available to him. And that is how he comes to be driving around on a bulldozer on Italy.
That, in itself, is funny when you visualize it – driving around the Italian countryside in a bulldozer! During the course of his trip, a lot happens in a similar humorous vein – he knows a smattering of Italian and is able to have some really interesting conversations with the people he meets; Becky unexpectedly visits to say she is sorry for leaving him, but he realizes he doesn’t really want to get together with her and encourages her to go back home; he develops a crush on an attractive, intelligent American woman he happens to help out when her car breaks down, but she is already with another guy and can’t reciprocate; and finally, he comes to realize that his deep friendship with Gloria is the solid foundation of a meaningful and loving relationship. Also, he is able to finish his book, so at least “mission accomplished” on that front.
I found My Italian Bulldozer to be a delightful and entertaining read, in the author’s trademark witty style with lots of tongue-in-cheek humor. And as with all his other writing, his humor never degenerates to becoming outlandish or slapstick in the least. Another typical characteristic of McCall Smith’s fiction is that it is always lighthearted, never dark or depressing. Even the “villains” – which in this book would be the rental car agent who duped Paul and made him go to jail – are bad in a funny way. In McCall Smith’s world, there is some humor in every situation. It’s a world that I, for one, would very much like to live in.
My Italian Bulldozer
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publication Date: April 2017
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.