Now before you balk, Portuguese Irregular Verbs isn’t a text book. Well, it is, but not in real life. It is the opus of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld – a very pompous, very German, philogist. The novel Portuguese Irregular Verbs, by Alexander McCall Smith, is a collection of misadventures staring Igelfeld supported by his equally square colleagues Professor Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer and Professor Dr. Dr. (hc) Florianus Prinzel.
I must say it’s very cute. It’s different and very creative – almost borderline absurdism with a dry sense of humor.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs is a very light read despite McCall Smith’s wide vocabulary… you may have to crack open a dictionary. There is no mind bending plot, just short vignettes that provide a chuckle or two as von Igelfeld’s ego gets him into trouble – be it at the dentist, attempting tennis or a duel at Heidleberg.
However, hidden within the stories and McCall Smith’s descriptions is a European’s view of Europe that most American could use and may cause wanderlust. You get a sense of small towns and different cultures that aren’t always touched upon by the mainstream.
You also get a sense (albeit satirical) of what it’s like to be an intellectual for a living – delivering academic paper after academic paper all the while putting up with academic paper after academic paper.
If Basil Fawlty had brains he’d probably be Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, and that’s good enough for me. Like I said, nothing cerebral here even though it deals with the everyday lives of scholars.
McCall Smith has gained my interest with this one. He has a slew of other books that I may just pick up. He has a good sense of narrative, description and all that other good stuff that makes a good author good, with the wit to match.
Go get the book, if not for the reasons stated then for the fact its only 10 bucks.