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At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances Paperback – Oct 12 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Canada; Canadian First edition (Oct. 12 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676976816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676976816
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 1 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #332,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“In the halls of academe, a setting fraught with ego-driven battles for power and prestige [Alexander McCall Smith] has rendered yet another one-of-a-kind character: the bumbling but brilliant Dr. Mortiz-Maria von Igelfeld . . . . [a] deftly rendered trilogy [with] endearingly eccentric characters.” —Chicago Sun-Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

Readers who fell in love with Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, now have new cause for celebration in the protagonist of these three light-footed comic novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due-a quest which has the tendency to go hilariously astray.
In At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Professor Dr. von Igelfeld gets caught up in a nasty case of academic intrigue while on sabbatical at Cambridge. When he returns to Regensburg he is confronted with the thrilling news that someone from a foreign embassy has actually checked his masterwork, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, out of the Institute's Library. As a result, he gets caught up in intrigue of a different sort on a visit to Bogota, Colombia. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xb4b24a5c) out of 5 stars 64 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb3679660) out of 5 stars Weakest of the three but still pretty funny April 19 2005
By Debbie the Book Devourer - Published on
Format: Paperback
It's not mandatory to read "Portuguese Irregular Verbs" and "The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs" before reading this book, but you might as well, because (a) they're very short, (b) they're very funny, and (c) there are references to stories in the preceding books.

I found this the weakest of the three books about the misadventures of Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Perhaps it's because there are only two stories in the novella, so each must be sustained over sixty pages or so. Maybe it's the stories' length that makes them seem so much more improbable than the improbable stories in the other volumes.

Still, the misadventures of Dr von Igelfeld, once again experienced as a result of searching for that elusive recognition he believes he deserves (Did you know he wrote the master work, Portuguese Irregular Verbs? It's the most important philological work of the last one hundred years, you know.), are very amusing. He accepts a visiting fellowship at Cambridge, where a shadowy plot to overthrow the faculty government is brewing, as if worries over his (less-deserving) colleague taking over his office in his absence were not enough. After that, he visits Columbia (the country), where he stumbles into yet another revolutionary plot.

Although I found this book the least amusing of the three Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainments, I still laughed out loud. It's light-hearted. It's short. It's just fun.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb36796b4) out of 5 stars Academic manners and madness Oct. 26 2005
By Debra Hamel - Published on
Format: Paperback
The two chapters of Alexander McCall Smith's At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances tell two almost independent stories featuring Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld--the renowned author of that 1200-page philological masterwork Portuguese Irregular Verbs. When the book opens we find von Igelfeld embroiled in the latest battle in his protracted but unacknowledged war with Professor Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, von Igelfeld's colleague and nemesis at the University of Regensburg's Institute of Romance Philology. Specifically, von Igelfeld is intent on occupying the most comfortable chair in the Institute's coffee room, a chair which Unterholzer is wont to claim for himself on most occasions: "As the best chair in the room it should by rights have gone to him [von Igelfeld], as he was, after all, the senior scholar, but these things were difficult to articulate in a formal way and he had been obliged to tolerate Unterholzer's occupation of the chair." As it happens, von Igelfeld's successful claiming of the chair on the morning in question--in fact his birthday--leads to his taking a sabbatical at Cambridge University, where he becomes involved in the petty politics of that august institution. Von Igelfeld's experiences abroad--with scheming dons and their lachrymose Master, with an inappropriate Porter, with the University's intolerable toilet situation--leave him more certain than ever of the German's superiority to the Anglo-Saxon.

Not long after his return to Regensburg von Igelfeld sets off on another foreign adventure, as he is to be inaugurated into the Colombian Academy of Letters as a Distinguished Corresponding Fellow. His experiences in Colombia, and in particular at the Villa of Reduced Circumstances of the book's title, are not at all what he expected from his trip, including as they do being held captive by revolutionaries. The Colombians are even crazier, it would seem, than the English. This second story, while amusing enough, is less successful than the first because it is rather too absurd. Smith's comedy of academic manners and madness is at its best when his wry humor settles on the more mundane, when he mocks the pretensions and petty disputes of von Igelfeld's small academic department. (Here, for example, are our hero's reflections on the prospect of a student coming to work at the Institute: "Von Igelfeld was dubious; students had a way of creating a great deal of extra work and were, in general, the bane of a professor's life. That was why so few German professors saw any students; it was regrettable, but necessary if one's time was to be protected from unacceptable encroachments.")

In von Igelfeld Smith has created a charmingly flawed character--pretentious, egocentric, oblivious to the needs of others, yet sometimes capable of nobility. The two stories in this collection are each nearly perfect little gems, almost old-fashioned in their mood and quiet humor. And it may be a small thing, but both end particularly well, with sentences that tie up their respective stories perfectly. I am eager to read Smith's two other von Igelfeld books, and to discover as well what he has waiting for readers in his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and his Sunday Philosophy Club Series.

Reviewed by Debra Hamel, author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb3679aec) out of 5 stars Beware-Not a Series for All Tastes Aug. 29 2005
By Marco Antonio Abarca - Published on
Format: Paperback
Like many readers, I came to the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series through Alexander McCall Smith's charming "Number One Ladies Detective Agency" series. Right off the bat, beware that this series has nothing in common with his beloved detective novels set in modern day Botswana. It is hard to believe that he wrote too such different types of books.

The Portuguese Irregular Verb series of which "At the Villa Reduced Circumstances" is just one book can best be described as a droll send up on the absurdities of academic life. McCall's style can best be described as extremely dry and verging on the absurdist. This type of subtle humor is not for everyone.

The books in the series do not need to be read in order. I would recommend that you start with "The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs", the best book in the series. If you like this type of humor gone onto the other two books. If you like your humor dry and way over the top, this is the series for you.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb3679eac) out of 5 stars The Garments Of Identity, And Other Academic Conundrums Oct. 17 2006
By Robert I. Hedges - Published on
Format: Paperback
This, the third installment in the Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld series, is witty and sly like the predecessors, but I found it to be slightly weaker than the first two. The first volume "Portuguese Irregular Verbs" is my clear favorite, and is one of the best things written in the last ten years; likewise "The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs" never fails to entertain (I still laugh when I think about von Igelfeld practicing veterinary medicine without a license.) The primary weakness of this volume is the reduced number of chapters versus the predecessors. In the earlier books, von Igelfeld had more numerous (but briefer) adventures that allowed for a quick pacing; this volume only has two chapters and as a result the plotlines begin to drag a bit. Don't misunderstand me, I loved "At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances," I just liked the other books more. Since this book makes reference to events and characters in the first two volumes, I do recommend reading them in order, though it isn't strictly mandatory.

In this book, von Igelfeld absorbs himself in a faculty political intrigue (which is sly, yet at times candidly accurate in its absurdity) as he takes a visiting professorship at Cambridge. Not only does he get totally immersed in academic political struggles, he has major issues with English toilets. (These two parallels surely can't be coincidental.) In the end his dealings with the politics of Cambridge and English bathroom design leave a clear opinion of Germanic superiority in von Igelfeld's mind.

Soon after the return from Cambridge, von Igelfeld is invited to become a Distinguished Corresponding Fellow at the Colombian Academy of Letters. This eventually leads to political intrigue at a different level when von Igelfeld is held captive at the Villa of Reduced Circumstances and encounters a strange group of rebels and government loyalists. It all concludes with von Igelfeld becoming the President (yes, of the country, not the Academy) and thus a target for violent overthrow. His ability to extract himself gracefully from that situation is dealt with in a most ingenious and amusing manner.

This is another great book by Alexander McCall Smith, and I recommend it to readers everywhere with a dry sense of humor and an inclination to mock the excesses of academia.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb3679f90) out of 5 stars Impressively Comical May 2 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Two shorts concerning Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld and they are both hilarious. Mr. McCall Smith possesses a subtle dry sense of humor that practically forms his writing into a rather droll literature laced with great command of the English language. "On Being Light Blue" is entertaining in the sense that it dwells on academic politics where each distinguished adult character is made to behave quite impossibly na?ve but commanding. "At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances" is full of actions where the heroic professor doesn't really have any control over anything - not even his own safety - but he comes out shining as fate (promised on him by his creator, Mr. McCall Smith) would have it. Three hours spent reading this book is time well spent.

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