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Authors: Alexander Mccall Smith

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The Importance of Being Seven

BOOK: The Importance of Being Seven
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Alexander McCall Smith
is the author of over sixty books on a wide array of subjects. For many years he was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and served on national and international bioethics bodies. Then in 1999 he achieved global recognition for his award-winning series The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and thereafter has devoted his time to the writing of fiction, including the 44 Scotland Street and Corduroy Mansions series. His books have been translated into forty-five languages. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Elizabeth, a doctor.

Praise for the 44 Scotland Street novels:

‘Perfect escapist fiction’

The Times

‘Simple, elegantly written and gently insightful’

Good Book Guide

‘A joyous, charming portrait of city life and human foibles, which moves beyond its setting to deal with deep moral issues and love, desire and friendship’

Sunday Express

‘Does for Edinburgh what Armistead Maupin did for San Francisco: seeks to capture the city’s rhythms by focusing on a small, emblematic corner… A light-hearted, genial soap opera’

Financial Times Magazine

Also by Alexander McCall Smith

.1 L
’ D

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Tears of the Giraffe

Morality for Beautiful Girls

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

The Full Cupboard of Life

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Blue Shoes and Happiness

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party



The Sunday Philosophy Club

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

The Right Attitude to Rain

The Careful Use of Compliments

The Comfort of Saturdays

The Lost Art of Gratitude

The Charming Quirks of Others


44 S

44 Scotland Street

Espresso Tales

Love Over Scotland

The World According to Bertie

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones



Corduroy Mansions

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold


The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom


La’s Orchestra Saves the World


Published by Hachette Digital

ISBN: 978-0-748-11887-8

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public
domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely

Copyright © 2010 Alexander McCall Smith

Illustrations © Iain McIntosh 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior
permission in writing of the publisher.

Hachette Digital

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY


Also by Alexander McCall Smith





1. Nothing But Tenderness

2. A Very Considerate Husband

3. At Big Lou’s

4. Auden and Burns, and Bertie

5. Pre-Natal Classroom – for Babies

6. The Ways of Ulysses

7. Anthropological Issues

8. Domenica Has Coffee With Dilly

9. The Grosseto Road

10. The Return of Pat Macgregor

11. Pat’s Flat

12. The Green Hotel

13. On the 23 Bus

14. Regurgitation Issues

15. Edinburgh People

16. For Love or Money

17. The News from Arbroath

18. Ten Years with the Pygmies

19. The Question of Cosmetic Surgery

20. The Aphrodite of Dundas Street

21. Impressionists and Post-Impressionists

22. More About Baden-Powell

23. The Insouciance of Tofu

24. Some Sophisticated Colours

25. 100 Things for a Boy to Do: Part 1

26. 100 Things for a Boy to Do: Part 2

27. Forgery Exposed

28. A Game of Bridge

29. Underneath the Lamplight

30. Trust and Revelation

31. Pregnancy Plans

32. Dramatic, Life-Enhancing News

33. The Implications of Boys

34. Carnoustie Shortbread

35. Édouard Vuillard and the Interior Vision

36. Fear a’ Bhata

37. Political Crisis

38. Show and Tell

39. Which World Am I Living In?

40. A Moment on Queen Street

41. Psychotherapeutic Matters

42. Life and Chance

43. A Scotsman, His Life and Marriage

44. A Move to Moray Place

45. In Moray Place

46. What We Really Are

47. The Symbolism of Birds

48. The Breaking of the Heart

49. Chinoiserie

50. Matthew is Decisive

51. A Letter of Comfort

52. The Meaning of Always

53. An Offer is Made

54. The Therapeutic Hour

55. Men Can Cry

56. From Scotland With Love

57. Bonnie Irene’s Noo Awa

58. Painful Questions

59. Regret on Corstorphine Road

60. The Comfort of Friends

61. Big Lou on Art and Fashion

62. Unwelcome Thoughts

63. Italy At Last

64. Services to the Republic

65. The Impact of Italy

66. Pacta Sunt Servanda

67. An Outing Begins

68. The Need for Evidence

69. On Subsidence

70. Supporting Walls

71. Arrival at the Villa

72. Mistah Kurtz, He Dead

73. The Possibilities of Florence

74. In Proper Boots

75. The Haar Rolls In

76. A Real Boy’s Room

77. Bertie’s Dream

78. An Incident in a Café

79. Unbearable Beauty

80. Antonia’s Condition Explained

81. A Terrible Mistake

82. Shocking Developments

83. A Hinterland of Regret

84. Icarus, Cyril, a Ducati

85. The Timetable of Happiness

This book is for
James Naughtie


I started writing the 44 Scotland Street series without any idea that it would turn into something of a saga. Now here we are six volumes later, returning to the world of that motley collection of people who live in the Edinburgh New Town and whose lives I have recorded in daily episodes in the
newspaper. I am very pleased to be back among these characters, and do not intend this to be my last visit to them. Domenica Macdonald, Angus Lordie and all the others have somehow become part of my world, just as I believe they have become part of the world of quite a number of readers in many countries. That, incidentally, gives me the greatest possible pleasure – the knowledge that we are all linked by our friendship with a group of fictional people. What a pleasant club of which to be a member!

I am often asked at events whether I have a favourite fictional character. I find that a difficult question to answer, but it is certainly the case that Bertie, the six-year-old boy in these novels, is somebody for whom I have particular affection. It will not have escaped the attention of readers that Bertie started as a five-year-old five volumes ago and has not really progressed very far. In fact, Bertie is still awaiting his seventh birthday, although it does not actually happen in this book. Why has time stood still for Bertie? The main reason for this, I think, is that Bertie at six is absolutely perfect, and I have no wish for him to grow up. He is at that wonderful stage where he understands the world, but not quite; when his mother is still in complete control of his life; when he has yet to learn how to lie and dissemble, or indeed to be cruel, in the way in which adults seem to find so easy. His world is an attractive one – a sort of Eden – from which we know we are excluded by the loss of our own innocence.

I have lost count of the number of times I have met people on my book tours who say to me that Bertie is a special character for them. This happens throughout the world. Earlier this year I was in India, at the Jaipur Literary Festival, and I met numerous Bertie fans there. The same was true in Australia, Singapore, Dubai and
Hong Kong – places that I went to after my Indian trip. The question I was asked most frequently in each of these places was the same: when will things get better for Bertie? And in each of these places there was a great groundswell of support for this poor little boy, egging him on, wishing him freedom from the regime of improvement planned for him by his mother, Irene, and siding with him against the dreadful Olive and the appalling Tofu. I wish I could have said that things were soon to change, but, alas, that would have been untruthful. Bertie’s situation is as difficult as ever; his is a hearth from which freedom seems for ever excluded. And that, alas, is true for so many of us. How many of us are really free of our past, of the things we have to do that we do not want to do, of the furniture of our life that is never really in quite the right place? Perhaps that is why Bertie is so popular. He reminds us of a yearning that many of us instinctively recognise within ourselves: the yearning to be seven –

I have dedicated this book to one of our greatest broadcasters, James Naughtie. James is a central pillar of the national conversation that we have with each other in Britain. I can imagine him engaging with any of the characters in this book – interviewing Angus Lordie, perhaps, on some artistic project, talking to Domenica Macdonald about her latest anthropological essay, or simply chatting to Big Lou about Arbroath and her years in Aberdeen. But he could also talk to Bertie, I think, and Bertie would be comforted by the conversation. James would make Bertie
seven, even if he is still six, and that, I think, is a great art. Thank you, James, for everything you have done for me, for the cause of rational debate, and for the millions of people to whom you have brought enlightenment, amusement and comfort.

Alexander McCall Smith

Edinburgh, 2010

BOOK: The Importance of Being Seven
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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