Reading Group Center

The Full Cupboard of Life

By Alexander McCall Smith

“Beguiling. . . . The author’s deceptively simple prose . . . is as supple as ever. His gift for effortless description of dusty, sun-baked Africa
is undiminished.” —The Seattle Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about Alexander McCall Smith’s The Full Cupboard of Life, the fifth book in the beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

1. There are many references in The Full Cupboard of Life to “the old Botswana morality” [p. 7]. In what ways is Mma Ramotswe a traditional, old-fashioned Botswanan woman? How is she modern? According to Mma Ramotswe, what is “the right sort of woman” [p. 5]? How do she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni embody the old Botswana morality?

2. What is Mma Ramotswe’s general opinion of men? Is it a stereotypical view? Is her fiancé, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, a typical male? What does she think the characteristic differences between the sexes are? How does this affect her interactions and dealings with both men and women?

3. For Mma Ramotswe’s clients, how is visiting with her like talking with a therapist? What psychological tactics does she employ with her clients and in solving their cases? How would you describe Mma Ramotswe’s approach to being a detective?

4. Much of the activity in The Full Cupboard of Life centers around drinking tea. Why is it so important in the lives and daily routines of the characters? What does that say about the culture of Botswana? [Note the chapter titled “Tea Is Always the Solution.”]

5. More so than in the first four novels, Mma Ramotswe comments on love in The Full Cupboard of Life. What are her views on love, romantic relationships, and marriage? How is forgiveness connected to love in Mma Ramotswe’s view? How is timing tied to love in her opinion? What determines her love for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni? What threatens to undermine their relationship and their engagement?

6. Mma Potokwane and Mma Makutsi both think of titles for books they may someday write such as How to Run an Orphan Farm and How to Get Ninety-Seven Per Cent. Have you ever thought of using your expertise to write a book? What are some titles for books you or other members of your book group could write?

7. How does McCall Smith use landscape imagery in this novel? What are some similarities and differences between Mochudi village life and the busier world of Gaborone? How do these locations compare with your hometown? Could these books have taken place anywhere other than in southern Africa? How has the landscape influenced Mma Ramotswe? Do you think the landscape has influenced the author as well? Have his descriptions influenced you?

8. Mma Ramotswe is a big fan of Clovis Andersen’s The Principles of Private Detection. What sort of advice does the guide provide? Why does Mma Ramotswe admire Andersen so much?

9. What are the distinctive characteristics of the author’s writing style? What is so compelling about the voice and description in the novel? How do you think Alexander McCall Smith’s background as a Scottish medical law professor who grew up in southern Africa has affected his books?

10. What is the significance of the title? What might be some other suitable titles for this book? Why does Alexander McCall Smith name the chapters with descriptive title-like headings? And how do they contribute to the novel as a whole?

11. For discussion of THE FULL CUPBOARD OF LIFE and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

How is Mr J.L.B. Matekoni portrayed differently in The Full Cupboard of Life than in the four previous books in the series? What new dimension is added to his character? What about Mma Ramotswe? Is she fairly consistent throughout the series, or does McCall Smith constantly reveal new aspects of her character? What about the other principal characters in the books—Mma Makutsi, Mma Potokwane, the apprentices? Have they grown into fuller characters and matured over the course of the novels?

12. What constitutes the main action in this book? Does Mma Ramotswe actually solve any mysteries in The Full Cupboard of Life? Compare and contrast The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books to other mystery series you’ve read and enjoyed. Are these books mysteries in the traditional sense? Do you think they are mysteries at all? How would you classify them?

13. How does the author incorporate Mma Ramotswe’s personal history and her adventures in the previous novels into The Full Cupboard of Life? Why does he do this? Do you think reading The Full Cupboard of Life would be the same without having read the first four books?