'At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances' - Book Review

At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances
by Alexander McCall Smith

I adored the title of this book, so I picked it up. McCall Smith is best known for The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but I suppose most authors want, in their hearts, to write an unpleasant character like this book's protagonist Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld. He reminds me of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman, or Donald Jack's Bartholomew Bandy (a reference for Canadians only). Igelfeld is a German academic whose understanding of the world does not extend beyond his incredibly narrow field of scholarly research. He and his associates are petty, mean little men who feud over tiny slights, real or imagined.

I spent a decade working at a university, but this wasn't my experience (McCall Smith's writing makes it clear all academics are like this). I suppose there were one or two people who behaved this way, but I didn't even have to make an effort to avoid them because they were so few and far between. I know the author wasn't going for accuracy, but his portrayal was mean enough, and so far from the truth, that it did put me off.

Some authors can work oblivious characters like this into comedy (I adore the first three Bandy books), and McCall Smith is an eloquent writer, but I merely found the intellectual pratfalls and jokes in this book wearing - so much so that I set it aside at page 82 of its rather slender 126 pages. My dislike aside, apparently the petty Igelfeld is a popular character: this seems to be the third book about him.