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What will become of Mma Ramotswe? July 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Long-time readers will know how much I adore Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and anticipate each yearly addition to the series with enormous pleasure.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the series involves the fictional adventures of Precious Ramotswe, the first lady detective in Botswana, and her associates, including the formidable Mma Potokwane, matron of the Orphan Farm and creator of the famous fruitcake, my favorite character; the hapless but lovable Phuti Radiphuti, proprietor of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop in Gabarone and suitor to Mma Ramotswe’s assistant, Grace Makutsi; and the evil Violet Sephotho, arch-rival to Mma Makutsi. Mma Ramotswe’s beloved tiny white van is as much a character as anyone in the series. Red bush tea, cattle, shoes, and Precious’s beloved Daddy, the late Obed Ramotswe, also figure prominently.

One of the really endearing things about the novels is that Mr. McCall Smith recognizes the importance of continuity, that he has created enduring icons that people come to love because he loves them and has delightfully brought them to life. So he carries them on into each succeeding novel. I, and I’m sure many devoted readers, would be horrified if the famous fruitcake, Mma Ramotswe’s “traditional” build, the tiny white van, Mma Makutsi’s talking shoes or her 97% certificate from the Botswana Secretarial College (the highest mark ever received from that institution), or Mr. McCall Smith’s beautiful closing tribute to Africa failed to make an appearance in any No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel. And Mr. McCall Smith does not disappoint.

Admittedly, if I could ask the author a few questions, I certainly would: Why did you slap Mma Ramotswe’s suitor and eventual husband, Mr. JLB Matekoni, with chronic depression? Why did he abruptly adopt two orphans? Why did Mr. Polopetsi suddenly appear, then unaccountably turn into a fairly major player, only, as unaccountably, to pretty much vanish? Why did you dispose of Kremlin, one of the strongest, most priceless characters in the series, rather than bring him back with subsequent misdeeds and general bad behavior? And, most important, what possessed you to maim poor Phuti Radiphuti, one of the most likeable characters, even though you’d already loaded him with handicaps like stuttering and terminal awkwardness? What had he possibly done to deserve that? 

I’m sure Mr. McCall Smith had his reasons, even if I can’t fathom them. However, now I have more serious things to worry about than what on earth he was thinking or what the differences are between Botswana, Batswana and Motswana or whether Phuti and Grace will be happy or Mma Potokwane and her very persuasive fruitcake will appear in the next volume. Now I’m wondering if there will even be a next volume.

I’ve been worrying about this ever since I read the most recent novel in the series, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (Pantheon, 2011).  As an editor and author, I’d have said that in this novel, every loose end in the series is tied up: Grace Makutsi definitively triumphs over her old rival, the much sexier, unscrupulous Violet Sephotho, once and for all. Mma Ramotswe at last retrieves her tiny white van, better than ever, from its junkyard grave. Mma Makutsi and the apprentice mechanic Charlie bury the hatchet after he finally admits she’s not a warthog and she finally admits he’s not totally worthless. And, at the end, Mma Makutsi and her awkward but lovable suitor, Phuti Radiphuti, are married at long last. Every beloved element, from Mma Makutsi’s shoes to Mma Potokwane and a special wedding fruitcake, are brought into play. There really is nothing left to say after this entirely lovable wrap-up.

So what now? Was The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle way of ending his series? And if not, where can he go from here?

             ‘Til next time,