Book Review and Analysis:
My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith
Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
This book is not one I would typically pick up, but I have been choosing random books to read lately, I recognized the author’s name and figured I would give this one a try! I would say it is a clever idea, but may not be worth reading unless you are in to a novel that reads like a slow-paced romance mixed with a travelogue. As a result, I have included a brief spoiler-free review followed by an analysis. If you want to read the book, just read the spoiler-free section–if not, read the analysis for a good laugh.
My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith was published in 2017. Alexander McCall Smith is a British writer who is known for writing The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith is about a man named Paul whose wife left him for her personal trainer. To come to terms with his loss, he decides to travel to Italy to undergo some much needed healing and begin work on his next book. Upon arrival, a mix-up with a rental car ends in him having to rent a bulldozer instead. The story follows Paul’s adventures in Italy as he tries to write a cookbook and travels around on his bulldozer.
I would describe this book as a pleasant but unexciting read. The characters are likeable but simple. The plot is clever but has some loose ends that are never tied up and apparently lead nowhere. The most beautiful things about this book are its use of language and descriptions of Italian culture. Looking at Goodreads, I found that when the book was reviewed by an Italian, they said the book did not show a strong grasp on Italian culture. The action moves at the speed of a bulldozer, taking its precious time. It surprised me that so few descriptions of food came up in this novel, considering the main character is a food and wine writer.
- Clever and funny plot
- Lovely use of language
- Uninteresting main characters
- Slow-moving action
- Superfluous material that led nowhere
- Insufficient research
- Very few descriptions of food considering this is a book about a food and wine writer
Paul Stewart’s wife Becky leaves him for her personal trainer. His editor comforts him and encourages him to take a trip to Italy to finish his already late next book, which is on Italian food and wine. They both hope that he will be able to get over her.
Upon arrival, he signs papers for his rental car, and like most people, does not read the fine print.
Then he goes to find it in the lot. When he cannot find it, he is accused of stealing it when he asks for another. Apparently those papers he signed included a statement that he had received the car in good condition.
When he tries to enlist the help of a policeman, he is put into jail in a cell he must share with dangerous criminal Occidilupo. Paul protects himself by pretending to be an even greater criminal and earning Occidilupo’s respect. Not sure why he was even in this book, because even though Occidilupo escapes later, nothing comes of it.
A chance acquaintance saves him from this awkward predicament and helps him find another mode of transportation, the only one that is currently available for rent in the area–a bulldozer.
Traveling around on his bulldozer, he meets an assortment of interesting but undeveloped side characters, such as a vintner who concocted an elaborate ancestry for himself, a priest who it is implied stole the bulldozer temporarily to break down a wall, etc. He does stuff like move a parking sign with his bulldozer to get free parking.
It’s a very idle book, but it was pleasant enough. The ending was neither surprising nor entertaining–but I don’t intend to spoil everything.
The language was pretty and drew me in at times even though the book was rather dull. For example, here is a passage from the book:
The Madonna, set back into a wall, looked down on passersby with otherworldly slightly dreamy gaze that Marian figures affect so effortlessly. At the foot of the figure, just low enough for somebody to reach on tiptoes, was a small shelf for offerings of flowers. A tiny wilted posy, the sort of thing a child would pick, lay on this shelf along with a square of delicate printed tissue paper in which amarettini are wrapped: an offering too, perhaps, that the Madonna had discreetly consumed overnight.”
The main characters were relatable in the way that they did react in appropriate ways to what they experienced and seemed like pretty normal people. The bulldozer was the interesting part of the novel, not Paul.
I got the impression Smith did adequate research, but when it came to a response from an Italian on Goodreads, it turned out the novel was not as well-researched as I had imagined. It seemed that way to me only because I know very little about Italy
I cannot honestly recommend this book. It was a little too bland for my liking. I don’t exactly regret reading it–I got a few laughs out of it–but there are so many better books. I hope The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a better read.
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