The Cleverness of Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith Audiobook

Erich Mayer

This audiobook, narrated by Adjoa Andoh, reminds me of happy childhood memories of being read to.
The Cleverness of Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith Audiobook

Cover Image: The Cleverness of Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith and  narrated by Adjoa Andoh.

Many of us have happy childhood memories of being read to, and that pleasure might carry into adulthood for some and be necessary for others. 

Talking Books were first produced in the USA in the 1930s for people who are visually impaired. Modern versions of these began to emerge in the 80s and have increased in popularity and become less costly. So while there is nothing new about listening to someone read a story, it is a pleasure we can now indulge in more often.

McCall Smith’s books have been translated into more than 40 languages and some 50 million of his books are in circulation. Many of these books are available as audio books, including The Cleverness of Ladies which is a collection of five short stories written by McCall Smith (especially for World Book Day a few years ago).

The pleasure of listening to Adjoa Andoh reading these stories can hardly be exaggerated. She is one of Britain’s best known actors, and won ‘Audio Book of the Year’ for narrating another of McCall Smith’s books: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Her talent enhances the writing the same way that good acting enhances a play.

However while traditional-book reviews abound, independent reviews of audio books are much scarcer. Perhaps this is because the words in an audiobook are identical to those in the printed book and all there is to say beyond the book review is how well, or badly, it has been narrated. But to get the best from an audio book, the narrator must offer something special; this is what Andoh contributes so brilliantly to The Cleverness of Ladies. Her voice changes not only with each of the five stories in the collection but with each character. She can personify a ‘lady detective’ in Botswana, an Italian farmer, an overbearing Dutch restaurateur, a shy immigrant and, in the story called Namaquland Daisies, the person dubbed ‘the Captain’.

While all the the stories exhibit McCall Smith’s inimitable style, that is the only similarity between them. His most charming story features a woman who organises an amateur orchestra during the second world war. Unquestionably his most unusual story is Namaquland Daisies which is, surprisingly for this author, a very subtle murder story. It is worth listening to more than once.

But a word of warning. There are free audio books readily available on the internet with the quality of narration ranging from acceptable to atrocious. Even audio books available for purchase sometimes have only adequate narrators, so it pays to listen to a sample narration before deciding to invest in one. But such caution is not required for The Cleverness of Ladies.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Cleverness of Ladies
Written by: Alexander McCall Smith
Narrated by: Adjoa Andoh
Length: 2 hrs and 5 mins 
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date: 2012
Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog