The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine is the latest (number 16) in the beloved series The Ladies No.1 Detective Agency, and Mma Ramotswe must contend with her greatest challenge yet – a holiday. Mma Ramotswe allows herself to be manipulated into taking a holiday by her assistant, Mma Makutsi, and her husband, Mr J L B Matekoni, who share a concern that Mma Ramotswe is taking on too much. Typical of the style of the book, Mr J L B Matekoni persuades Mma Ramotswe that a holiday would indeed be a good idea.
“I worry about you a great deal, Mma. I worry that you will take all the cares of the world on your shoulders and that you will collapse under the weight. I worry that you will open your heart to so many people that eventually it will be full – crowded – and it will stop because there is no room for the blood to go round. I am worried that you will look after so many people that you will forget that there is one person who also needs looking after, and that person is you, Mma. I am worried about all these things” Mr J. L. B. Matekoni.”
On the first morning of her holiday, Mma Ramotswe has cleaned out her kitchen cupboards, but does not know what else to do. Of course, there is one thing that must be done on holiday, and that is to drink more tea. She decides to take tea at the President Hotel in Gaborone, and there begins a series of events that Mma Ramotswe cannot help but become involved whilst on holiday. Mma Ramotswe rescues the orphaned boy Samuel, carpark ‘guardian’ near the hotel; she comes across the arch-enemy, Violet Sepotho’s, latest venture; she goes to the assistance of the overwhelmed Mr Polopetsi, the part-time Chemistry teacher who is also volunteering at the Ladies No.1 Detective Agency. Their latest case is a matter of great delicacy concerning the late politician Government Keboneng, and Mma cannot resist an undercover role.
It is not the mysteries in themselves that are the attraction, even delight, in this series, but the observations on life as seen through the eyes of Mma Ramotswe and the conversations that she has with Mma Makutsi and Mr J L B Matekoni. It is like picking up with an old friend. The simple philosophies and views of the world are refreshing, delivered in a convincing tone and diction that McCall-Smith captures to perfection. Topics roam around the book, indeed the series, such as politics (and the behaviour of those in power), getting the happiness you deserve, divine retribution (with Violet Sepotho as a frequent example), food (and the merits of drinking red bush tea), the values of body image (the advantage of being traditionally built), and in The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, what your shoes might say if they could talk.
“Mma Ramotswe looked down at her hands, folded passively on her lap. Was she getting stale? She looked at her shoes, at her faithful brown shoes with their broad soles and their flat heels. Were these the shoes of a stale person?… Her gaze shifted to Mma Makutsi’s shoes… Wearing a pair of bottle-green patent sandals with wedge heels. The crisscross straps of the sandals were numerous, but thin – impossibly so, thought Mma Ramotswe – and could not be much stronger, she felt, than the gossamer of a spider’s web… No matter how impractical such sandals might be, they were clearly not the sandals of a stale person.”
This series is never going to win any great prize in literature, but that is no matter. The prize of each book is in spending time with Mma Ramotswe, and The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine is no different. A thoroughly enjoyable and calming experience that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Whilst The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine could easily be read independent of the series, I would heartily recommend beginning with book number one, and meandering through the complete series – although the perhaps not one after another. That might be a little too much of a good thing.