By Alexander McCall Smith
Princeton University Press, $19.95, 137 pages
How can an author with a terrific track record be embarrassed about the book he’s just written? Or how else to explain Alexander McCall Smith’s What W. H. Auden Can Do for You, an uncomfortable appreciation of the lugubrious if not brilliant poet? As a professor of medical law for many years, McCall Smith switched direction. To the delight of millions of readers he introduced the exuberant Precious Ramotse, owner of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in Botswana, Precious solved a series of semi-serious crimes and her witty, smart endeavors top popularity lists. So have subsequent series to a total of some 30 books and counting.
Perhaps by special request, the author felt it was time to take a break into serious revelation and recognize Auden’s compelling influence. In barely a hundred pages he restores our memory of Auden’s exquisite elegy in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, and cites several poems that have entered our mental storehouse.
The book, included in the Princeton University Press series Writers on Writers, is readable, articulate (of course), and enjoyable.
Reviewed by Jane Manaster