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Alexander McCall Smith

    You tell your publisher you have surefire hit – the story of a writer whose rental car complications force him to drive a bulldozer around Tuscany.

    You tell her it’s not a farce, but rather poignant.

    She tells you to find another agent.

    Unless, of course, your name is Alexander McCall Smith and you have already enjoyed so much success that she exclaims, “Brilliant!,” and you have enough imagination and wit to pull it off.

My Italian Bulldozer is the story of Paul Stewart, a Scottish food writer facing a daunting deadline and a broken heart after his wife has left him for her personal trainer. So he sets off for the idyllic Italian town of Montalcino to finish his book and escape his stressful life.

By the end of the novel, Paul has figured it all out. But, the real star here is the food, the wine, and countryside, which McCall describes with relish and skill.

As Roger Cox observes in the Scotsman: “The limited speed of the bulldozer forces [Paul] to slow down and take in his surroundings at a stately, almost meditative pace, and his elevated position offers some unique insights, allowing him to see things most drivers cannot. In Montalcino, Paul soon becomes absorbed in various small-town intrigues, and he gives the local gossips something to talk about himself when he forms a connection with an already-attached American art historian called Anna, then receives awkward overlapping visits from [his ex-wife] Becky and [lovelorn agent] Gloria.”

The same cane said for McCall’s writing. The plot moves along but it his affectionate attention to detail – especially the food, the wine and the landscape – that drives the novel.  “This is the kind of book you can dip into and be grateful for,” Muriel Dobbin wrote in the Washington Times. “Even the bulldozer is rather charming.”

Alexander McCall Smith’s Top Ten List

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

3. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

4. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

5. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

6. The Europeans by Henry James

7. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9. The English Teacher by R K Narayan

10. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee