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Heisenberg might have stayed here
Book Review: Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall Smith
Off the top of my head, The Empire Strikes Back is the only example in any genre where a sequel surpasses the original (I'm sure there must be others, but I am also sure they are few and far between). There are probably many good reasons for this: the creative process is not infinite and must run out of steam; if the original is a great success, it sets expectations far higher than it can deliver; and simply, that we get bored of exactly the same thing over again, yet a sequel must stick to substantially the same material and themes as its predecessor.

Given the uphill struggle it faces, Tears of the Giraffe fares quite well, though I do not think it is quite up to the surprisingly enjoyable The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The first book was very episodic, almost a short story collection with some parallel processing, whereas this book, for the most part, has a smaller number of plots. There is also rather less detecting. The characters are still charming, whether it is Mma Ramotswe's reflections on heaven and hell ("perhaps a bit like Nigeria, she thought"), Mr J L B Matekoni's honesty and fecklessness at the orphan farm, or Mma Makutsi's first case as Assistant Detective (and Secretary).

Mma Ramotswe's main case in this book concerns the disappearance of an American man from a commune on the edge of the Kalahari desert a decade earlier, but she also has to contend with her fiancé, his (too) charitable nature, and his dishonest maid, while also concerning herself with the ambitions of her secretary and the ethical dilemmas involved in her work.

Though this and the earlier book were brought to life quite well a month or two ago in a mini-series of The Afternoon Play on Radio 4, the editing increased through the episodes, and there are more details where the book differs from the play. I enjoyed listening to the plays on the radio, and hope that brought about a wider audience for the books, but I have to say that the books are definitely superior. I have plenty else on my reading list for now, but I'm looking forward to the further books in this series at some point in the future.


5 comments or Leave a comment
strange_complex From: strange_complex Date: October 26th, 2004 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but didn't find it gripping enough to want to read more. It was enjoyable, but I get greater enjoyment from many other series of books, so decided not to bother reading any of its sequels.

As for sequels surpassing originals, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pretty much the locus classicus for this, isn't it?
qatsi From: qatsi Date: October 26th, 2004 01:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
You may very well be right about the Narnia books; ironically I think I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at school and wasn't that taken by it, so didn't bother with any of the others.

I've never been interested in Pratchett (despite various attempts by uitlander), nor, perhaps more surprisingly, by Douglas Adams. I suppose something just catches your imagination in a particular way, or strikes a chord somehow, of disproportionate enjoyment to you, then you're off.

I don't think I would describe The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency as gripping either; but it's a great book to unwind to, the change of pace and scene is so refreshing.
altariel From: altariel Date: October 26th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Godfather 2?

You've encouraged me to try the next couple of McCalls now; I found the first one a bit too whimsical for my taste.
From: ex_kharin447 Date: October 26th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suppose the new testament may have represented a marginal improvement on the diablically written original..
From: ex_kharin447 Date: October 26th, 2004 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Diabolically, even.
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