Corduroy Mansions (Corduroy Mansions Series #1)

Corduroy Mansions (Corduroy Mansions Series #1)

by Alexander McCall Smith


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In the Corduroy Mansions series of novels, set in London’s hip Pimlico neighborhood, we meet a cast of charming eccentrics, including perhaps the world’s most clever terrier, who make their home in a handsome, though slightly dilapidated, apartment block. 

Corduroy Mansions is the affectionate nickname given to a genteel, crumbling mansion block in London’s vibrant Pimlico neighborhood and the home turf of a captivating collection of quirky and altogether McCall-Smithian characters. There’s the middle-aged wine merchant William, who’s trying to convince his reluctant twenty-four-year-old son, Eddie, to leave the nest; and Marcia, the boutique caterer who has her sights set on William. There’s also the (justifiably) much-loathed Member of Parliament Oedipus Snark; his mother, Berthea, who’s writing his biography and hating every minute of it; and his long-suffering girlfriend, Barbara, a literary agent who would like to be his wife (but, then, she’d like to be almost anyone’s wife). There’s the vitamin evangelist, the psychoanalyst, the art student with a puzzling boyfriend and Freddie de la Hay, the Pimlico terrier who insists on wearing a seat belt and is almost certainly the only avowed vegetarian canine in London.
Filled with the ins and outs of neighborliness in all its unexpected variations, Corduroy Mansions showcases the life, laughter and humanity that have become the hallmarks of Alexander McCall Smith’s work. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307476500
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2011
Series: Corduroy Mansions Series , #1
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 183,238
Product dimensions: 7.84(w) x 5.26(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is also the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He lives in Scotland.


Edinburgh, Scotland

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1948

Place of Birth:


Read an Excerpt

Corduroy Mansions

A Novel
By Alexander Mccall Smith


Copyright © 2010 Alexander Mccall Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307379085

1. In the Bathroom

Passing off, thought William. Spanish sparkling wine—filthy stuff, he thought, filthy—passed itself off as champagne. Japanese whisky—Glen Yakomoto!—was served as Scotch. Inferior hard cheese—from Mafia-run factories in Catania—was sold to the unsuspecting as Parmesan.

Lots of things were passed off in one way or another, and now, as he stood before the bathroom mirror, he wondered if he could be passed off too. He looked at himself, or such part of himself as the small mirror encompassed-just his face, really, and a bit of neck. It was a fifty-one-year-old face chronologically, but would it pass, he wondered, for a forty-something-year-old face?

He looked more closely: there were lines around the eyes and at the edge of the mouth but the cheeks were smooth enough. He pulled at the skin around the eyes and the lines disappeared. There were doctors who could do that for you, of course: tighten things up; nip and tuck. But the results, he thought, were usually risible. He had a customer who had gone off to some clinic and come back with a face like a Noh-play mask-all smoothed out and flat. It was sad, really. And as for male wigs, with their stark, obvious hairlines, all one wanted to do was to reach forward and give them a tug. It was quite hard to resist, actually, and once, as a student-and when drunk-he had done just that. He had tugged at the wig of a man in a bar and . . . the man had cried. He still felt ashamed of himself for that. Best not to think about it.

No, he was weathering well enough and it was far more dignified to let nature take its course, to weather in a National Trust sort of way. He looked again at his face. Not bad. The sort of face, he thought, that would be hard to describe on the Wanted poster, if he were ever to do anything to merit the attention of the police-which he had not, of course. Apart from the usual sort of thing that made a criminal of everybody: "Wanted for illegal parking," he muttered. "William Edward French (51). Average height, very slightly overweight (if you don't mind our saying so), no distinguishing features. Not dangerous, but approach with caution."

He smiled. And if I were to describe myself in one of those lonely hearts ads? Wine dealer, widower, solvent, late forties-ish, GSOH, reasonable shape, interested in music, dining out etc., etc., WLTM presentable, lively woman with view to LTR.

That would be about it. Of course one had to be careful about the choice of words in these things; there were codes, and one might not be aware of them. "Solvent" was clear enough: it meant that one had sufficient money to be comfortable, and that was true enough. He would not describe himself as well off, but he was certainly solvent. "Well off," he had read somewhere, now meant disposable assets of over . . . how much? More than he had, he suspected.

And "reasonable shape"? Well, if that was not strictly speaking true at present, it would be shortly. William had joined a gym and been allocated a personal trainer. If his shape at present was not ideal, it soon would be, once the personal trainer had worked on him. It would take a month or two, he thought, not much more than that. So perhaps one might say, shortly to be in reasonable shape.

Now, what about: would like to meet presentable, lively woman. Well, presentable was a pretty low requirement. Virtually anybody could be presentable if they made at least some effort. Lively was another matter. One would have to be careful about lively because it could possibly be code for insatiable, and that would not do. Who would want to meet an insatiable woman? My son, thought William suddenly. That's exactly the sort of woman Eddie would want to meet. The thought depressed him.

William lived with his son. There had been several broad hints dropped that Eddie might care to move out and share with other twenty- somethings, and recently a friend of Eddie's had even asked him if he wanted to move into a shared flat, but these hints had apparently fallen on unreceptive ground. "It's quite an adventure, Eddie," William said. "Everybody at your stage of life shares a flat. Like those girls downstairs. Look at the fun they have. Most people do it."

"You didn't."

William sighed. "My circumstances, Eddie, were a bit different."

"You lived with Grandpa until he snuffed it."

"Precisely. But I had to, don't you see? I couldn't leave him to look after himself."

"But I could live with you until you snuff it."

"That's very kind of you. But I'm not planning to snuff it just yet."

Then there had been an offer to help with a mortgage—to pay the deposit on a flat in Kentish Town. William had even gone so far as to contact an agent and find a place that sounded suitable. He had looked at it without telling Eddie, meeting the agent one afternoon and being shown round while a litany of the flat's—and the area's—advantages was recited.

William had been puzzled. "But it doesn't appear to have a kitchen," he pointed out.

The agent was silent for a moment. "Not as such," he conceded. "No. That's correct. But there's a place for a sink and you can see where the cooker used to be. So that's the kitchen space. Nowadays people think in terms of a kitchen space. The old concept of a separate kitchen is not so important. People see past a kitchen."

In spite of the drawbacks, William had suggested that Eddie should look at the place and had then made his proposition. He would give him the deposit and guarantee the mortgage.

"Your own place," he said. "It's ideal."

Eddie looked doubtful. "But it hasn't got a kitchen, Dad. You said so. No kitchen."

William took this in his stride. "It has a kitchen space, Eddie. People see past an actual kitchen these days. Didn't you know that?"

But Eddie was not to be moved. "It's kind of you, Dad. I appreciate the offer, but I think it's premature. I'm actually quite comfortable living at home. And it's greener, isn't it? Sharing. It makes our carbon footprint much smaller."

And so William found himself living with his twenty-four-year-old son. Wine dealer, he thought, would like his son to meet a lively woman with view to his moving in with her. Permanently. Any area.

He turned away from the bathroom mirror and stooped down to run his morning bath. It was a Friday, which meant that he would open the business half an hour late, at ten-thirty rather than ten. This meant that he could have his bath and then his breakfast in a more leisurely way, lingering over his boiled egg and newspaper before setting off; a small treat, but a valued one.

There was a knocking on the door, soft at first and then more insistent.

"You're taking ages, Dad. What are you doing in there?"

He did not reply.

"Dad? Would you mind hurrying up? Or do you want me to be late?"

William turned and faced the door. He stuck out his tongue.

"Don't be so childish," came the voice from the other side of the door.

Childish? thought William. Well, you've got a little surprise coming your way, Eddie, my boy.


Excerpted from Corduroy Mansions by Alexander Mccall Smith Copyright © 2010 by Alexander Mccall Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide


About the Book
The debut novel in a new series first published online as chapters in The Daily Telegraph, Corduroy Mansions sees Alexander McCall Smith leave Botswana and Edinburgh behind, and alight in a delightful London setting with a fresh cast of characters.

Corduroy Mansions is the affectionate nickname given a genteel, crumbling mansion block in London’s vibrant Pimlico neighborhood. Among the colorful characters who call the aging building home is wine merchant William, who is trying to convince his reluctant twenty-four-year-old son, Eddie, to leave the nest. William (along with Eddie) is getting more than enough encouragement from Marcia, the boutique caterer who has set her sights on the father. But William’s heart goes to his new parttime pet, Freddie de la Hay, a terrier who insists on wearing a seat belt and is almost certainly the only vegetarian canine in London.

In the flat below William live four young women, one of whom, Caroline, is studying for a master’s degree at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Caroline is fond of her classmate James, who likes Caroline a great deal, but is unsure as to what his real proclivities are. Caroline’s roommate, Dee, runs a vitamin and health food shop, and is convinced of the virtues of colonic irrigation.

A third roommate, Jenny, works for the loathed Member of Parliament Oedipus Snark. Snark is so despicable that his own mother, Berthea, is writing a scathing unauthorized biography of him—that is when she is not busy watching out for her eccentric brother Terence, who is currently studying a type of mystical Bulgarian sacred dance.

In the bottom flat of Corduroy Mansions, Jenny befriends Mr. Basil Wickramsinghe, the polite but mysterious tenant who may or may not be into something illicit with the anemic Miss Oiseau.

As the story goes on, we meet more residents and the people with whom they are connected. Together they fill Corduroy Mansions with Alexander McCall Smith’s specific brand of wit and humor.

About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is also the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He lives in Scotland.

Questions for Discussion
1. This book was originally published online in serialized chapters. Do you find it flows differently than other novels by Alexander McCall Smith? If so, how?

2. Alexander McCall Smith said of Corduroy Mansions: “These stories are characterbased: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots.” Pick your favorite character and explain what you think makes him or her tick.

3. Freddie de la Hay is given as much personality as the humans in this story, yet his previous owner only refers to him as a social experiment. What do you think about training a dog to wear a seat belt and be a vegetarian?

4. Which of the characters do you most identify with? Is this also your favorite character?

5. Marcia seems to be manipulating William’s living situation to fit her needs. Is this because she is lonely? Does she have William’s best interest at heart?

6. Eddie is not a positive character in this story. How much of Eddie’s behavior appears to be typical of an early-twenty-something? Are William’s opinions guided too much by Marcia? What is your opinion of Eddie by the end of the book?

7. The problem of the Poussin painting garners different reactions from the characters involved with it. William sees a moral quandary in dealing with his son. Marcia doesn’t even think of the moral implications. What would you do if you were William?

8. Caroline wishes to help James discover the truth behind his proclivities, but she also wants to date him. Do you think Caroline is more self-interested or more altruistic?

9. As Jenny leaves Basil Wickramsinghe’s apartment, she overhears his visitor asking if Jenny is “a sympathiser.” What could this mean? Do you think he is involved in an illegal activity?

10. Jenny works for the odious Oedipus Snark. The MP clearly does not treat her well, nor any other woman with whom he interacts. Why do you think Jenny works for him? Why does Barbara Ragg stay with Snark?

11. Oedipus seems a little too interested in Barbara’s new book. What would he do with the tale of a Yeti? How would public reaction to the announcement of finding a Yeti help his career?

12. Berthea Snark is writing a distinctly non-hagiography of her son. What does this say about her as a mother? Why do you think she’s doing it? Why do you think she named him Oedipus?

13. Terence Moongrove is a bit absentminded. Does his sister, Berthea, overreact to his eccentricities, or is she simply protecting him? What could they learn from each other?

14. Barbara Ragg’s new beau seems too good to be true. Do you trust Hugh? How is your opinion of Hugh influenced by Barbara’s previous poor instincts with men?

15. Many of the characters in this book have feelings of loneliness. Name one and explain what his or her loneliness has driven that person to do. Who finds a way to dispel the feeling, and how is it done?

Customer Reviews

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Corduroy Mansions (Corduroy Mansions Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 147 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In London, several eccentric people reside at Corduroy Mansions. Wine merchant and connoisseur William wants his twentyish year old son Eddie to move out, but a nuclear bomb is not going to budge his offspring. He gets Freddie the vegan canine whose prime mission is to propel Eddie to move in with people his age. Restaurateur Marcia wants Eddie out of the house also so then she can make a move on empty nester William. Another occupant Dee works at a vitamin store where she tries to help a peer who she feels needs to cleans his system of excess salt. Her flat-mate Jenny earns a difficult living working for detestable MP Oedipus Snark, who treats his employee like a low form of dog excrement. Snark's mom Berthea is writing the definitive biography of her son while her agent Barbara wants to become Mrs. MP. As the walls crumble around the quirky residents, their squabbles make for an enjoyable slice of London life. Low keyed and not for everyone, fans of the author will enjoy the jocularity of everyday people interrelating in a dysfunctional manner as Corduroy Mansions is sort of like an aging supercollider with the people living there as the subatomic particles being sliced and diced. More like Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street books, than his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, this is a fun look at the foibles of human interactions. Harriet Klausner
Tuffydox More than 1 year ago
Smith introduces a great cast of interesting characters with unique perceptions on life....all bound together by Corduroy Mansions, where most of them reside. The clear breakout star of the group has to be one Freddie de la Hay, a little terrier whose straightforward ways of viewing the world are awesome. Loved the book so much that I immediately bought the sequel, and it's even better! Freddie has the potential to be Smith's next fictional star!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smith gently leads us into the lives of his characters, exploring their problems, giving depths to the people involved, and digressing into enjoyable sidelights. A good book for times when you're stressed out and need a good read.
RedRaven More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed with this book. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen, and it never did. The writing is a great character study of some offbeat people, but I found myself wanting more. So many characters and with the shift between points of view, and often I found myself lost and wondering was it Tim or Tom or James, with Marcia, Jenny or Barbara? It was very difficult to put the book down, pick it up a minute later and remember what was going on. This is the first book I've read of McCall-Smith's. I am aware of the No. 1 Detective books, so I think I was expecting this to be a mystery as well. I find the Donna Andrews series be to be equally character driven but with more of a plot.
koleen48 More than 1 year ago
This is a charming, fun book! I love the No. ! Lady Detective stories and this one is another hit. I can't wait to read more!
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
I've enjoyed all the books I've read so far by Alexander McCall Smith, and Corduroy Mansions is no exception-one of those books that can be put down and picked up at any moment. Chapters are delivered in perfect bite-sized increments, characters in surprisingly deep and realistic coffee-cup caricatures, and the streets of London are depicted to the beat of modern coffee-shops while strains of Mozart drift along on the breeze. There are art galleries, art history, a politician of dubious honesty and integrity, flat-sharing young adults and a grown-up youth pondering the workings of his car. At the center of all is wine-merchant William and the flat he shares, variously, with son, lady friend and dog. Of course, it's a wonderful dog-you can tell from his picture on the cover. Corduroy Mansions is the first of a new series, so, of course, I'll be looking for volume 2 as soon as it's in paperback. It's definitely another fun book for McCall Smith fans, and a great place to meet him (and his characters) if you're not already a fan. Disclosure: I bought this for myself; I'm a McCall Smith Addict
Anonymous 7 months ago
gbelik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A light read without much plot but with some endearing characters.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
McCall Smith, well-known for his ¿Ladies¿ No. 1 Detective Agency¿ series, brings his trademark warm humor and wise wit to the interlocking stories of a small group of Londoners. The stories here center around the inhabitants of an apartment building in the Pimlico neighborhood called Corduroy Mansions. William, a widowed wine merchant, schemes to oust his lazy freeloading twenty-something son from their shared apartment so William can get on with his life, and enlists Marcia, a single female friend with romantic ambitions toward William, to help him. Dee, a young woman who works in a vitamin shop, cannot understand why her young male coworker won¿t let her give him the colonic irrigation she¿s convinced he desperately requires. Art history student Caroline conceives a crush on a friend and fellow student who has recently decided he might not be gay after all. Poor Jenny works as a secretary for Oedipus Snark, an MP so odious that even his own mother can¿t stand him and is working on his unauthorized biography in order to expose him to the world. These stories and others collide as McCall Smith¿s characters each confront their quotidian, universal yet deeply personal, problems. (Dog lovers will particularly enjoy reading about the sprightly and intelligent pooch Freddie de la Hay!)
ccayne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These are the best books to listen to - great narration, quirky characters, funny, yet making some serious points and, of course, an interesting dog character. This time, the dog has a grand name - Freddy De La Haye.
delphimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is another series by Alexander McCall Smith and is set in London with the main character Freddie de la Hay, a vegetarian Pimlico terrier. The story resembles the 44 Scotland series with all the quirky characters living in a specific block and also draws on the philosophical quality of the Isabel Dalhousie series. I enjoy the common attitude and every day life of the characters, such as a father trying to get his adult son to move and live his own life and a mother hating her own son and reverting to writing his biography. As with Smith's writing he seems to poke fun at life's serious issues such as infidelity, and state that life is too short to worry needlessly.
raizel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A charming story about the occupants of an apartment building and the people connected to them. The brother of the mother of the boss of one a group of young women sharing an apartment reminds me of P. G. Wodehouse's Lord Emsworth in his inability to do anything successfully. it is part of a series and although the book seems to end satisfyingly enough, there are some stories that we do seem to be in the middle of.One particularly bit: "This technique of asking just the right question to inhibit further conversation was a useful one, and was used by William in other social circumstances when small talk needed to be avoided. At cocktail parties, where one might quite reasonably simply wish to stand, or sit, and not be pestered by other guests seeking to make small talk, the use of a discreet lapel badge was sometimes to be recommended. The badge might state one's religious position in unequivocal terms, and invite discussion on it. This a small badge saying 'Please talk to me about salvation' usually had the effect of ensuring a peaceful time at any party, leaving one untroubled by other guests coming up to engage one in unwanted conversation. Similarly a badge saying 'No longer infectious' could usually be calculated to ensure physical space, another commodity in short supply at the more popular cocktail parties.
bearette24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot. I thought McCall Smith might be losing his touch, but the new setting (London) and characters seem to reinvigorate his writing. Although he borrows liberally from his 44 Scotland Series (a painting is used as a plot point, in addition to the conceit of neighbors in a building), the story seems new and fresh. I can't wait to read the next installment.
Clara53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A remarkably appealing start for a new series by one of my favorite authors. And what a prolific writer A.McCall Smith is: writing several series at the same time and not repeating himself in any way. The very name of the dog (Freddie de la Hay!) on the cover of the book will make you smile on and on. At the risk of sounding overly enthusiastic (and what if I am!) I must say that my heart soars and my brain rests reading McCall's books. Plus, no swear words - nothing like that - which unfortunately permeate some contemporary literature. Enjoyed it thoroughly.
dissed1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Corduroy Mansions is a droll British comedy of errors. The novel follows the lives of the Pimlico flat's inhabitants and the trials and disappointments of their ordinary lives. Willim needs to get his fully grown son to move out of his house, and keep his avid suitor from moving in, while downstairs four young women wrestle with romances of their own. Bertea's caught up in looking after her brother, whose daft lifestyle leaves her on edge. Everyone's got someone else occupying their mind and is rattling rather distractedly through their own lives.Author Alexander McCall Smith writes with verve and wit, but something about this farce kept it from holding my attention. The characters and their predicaments are interesting, but the plot never seems to go anywhere--and wading through all the dithering over decision-making is monotonous and drags the story down. Several characters play a very small part in the tale, and don't seem to have enough to do. Either their roles should have been expanded or excluded all together.While Corduroy Mansions is cleverly told, it lacks any nuance capable of hooking the reader and inciting him to care. I want to like this book and recommend it wholeheartedly . . . . I just can't.
phoenixcomet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disappointing. Quick read, but the characters only marginally come to life. Story lines are left incomplete and perhaps that is because it is supposed to be a never-ending tale of what occurs in the housing complex in Great Britain, or perhaps it's because the author didn't think it was necessary to do so.
TigsW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another charming novel from this author. His interesting and thoughtful insights into his human (and dog) characters always have some positive bent and some moral undertone. They're simply lovely. This characterizations, though, are becoming deeper and he publishes more books and slightly blacker edges are emerging.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is just something special in the way that Alexander McCall Smith writes. I knew when I picked up Corduroy Mansions that I'd be in for a treat, and I wasn't let down.Here's what I love most about Alexander McCall Smith's writing: his character development. There is not a single book of his that hasn't had me waxing on and on about at least one of his characters, and Corduroy Mansions is not exempt from this. I don't know who I loved more, William (and Freddie de la Hay - the vegetarian dog), Oedipus Snark (such a fun, bad character) or Barbara and her adorable, naive brother, Theodore.This was the perfect airplane read. It had me giggling softly to myself, thoroughly engrossed in the unfolding drama all centered around a quiet, unassuming building. A fantastic read and one I highly recommend.
phh333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable read about a group of quirky characters that live in a group of flats - Corduroy Mansions. It started out very funny and ended up mildly humorous. Good audio version.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not nearly as good as his other series. Didn't finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dropped you on the floor. He smiles.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She looked confused "wut?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So enjoyable, so comfortable. Love his writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
McCall Smith has created interesting characters as usual. It is rather fun encountering his ironies like the art historian deciding he is not gay after all or the dog transitions.