A Distant View of Everything – Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel’s charmed life continues with only a few hiccups. A new baby, Magnus, has arrived, but Grace and Jamie are so ever-present that she still continues to volunteer at her niece’s shop on top of managing the review and helping other people. Occasionally she recalls her children when out and about, but only to ring Grace and confirm that she will be a little longer.

Obviously though she does love her family, and occasionally listens to Jamie when he offers advice, but more often, blunders on obliviously getting herself into dreadful pickles. But of course in her side of Edinburgh everyone is very nice and understanding, so by the end of the book no harm has been done.

McCall Smith has obviously written himself into a bit of a loop here: unable to give Isabel’s tale a decent ending he is just dragging it out into repetitive books. They no longer stand up to rereading, but are worth picking up from the library in hope of improvement.



The Perils of Morning Coffee – Alexander McCall Smith, read by Karlyn Stephen

This is another case of the library service’s initiatives doing what they aimed to – the little lad is doing the summer reading scheme at the library, and one “stamp” is to borrow an audiobook. So we went on the library’s audiobook download site, to find him a story, and I found an Isabel Dalhousie novella on the front page.

I was very impressed with how easy it was to borrow, download, and move to my music player (in MP3 format). This left me to listen at my own pace during train journeys.

This is just a novella, coming in at under 2 hours, so even shorter than the usual Alexander McCall Smith fare. But Isabel still undergoes some character development, and it places a new lens on her, as she confronts her own expectations, and considers how to handle friendships. She is required to confront her own nature, with and without Jamie’s support.

Resolutions were aspirational, Isabel knew, honesty required one to acknowledge that.

And of course, some poetry is interwoven throughout, and the neatness of the opening and ending being tied together with the same metaphor is one I appreciated.

Having enjoyed this, I have another McCall Smith novella, along with another audiobook reserved through the library service.

The Novel Habits of Happiness – Alexander McCall Smith

There is not much to say about this – it’s a Sunday Morning Philosopher’s Club novel, where Isabel Dalhousie is compelled to help someone with a problem in their life, and moves on slightly in her personal life. Nevertheless, I still love it.

It’s a nice cozy read, about a world where Isabel’s life is blessed, and she is grateful for this. And there are the cultural references, as she navigates a world of literature, art and music.


Trains and Lovers – Alexander McCall Smith

I haven’t been blogging much lately as I haven’t felt much like reading due to pressures of work etc. So on my way through the library today I picked up an Alexander McCall Smith I haven’t read before. It was apparently just what the whole house needed, as everyone has conveniently napped or gone to bed early so I could read it all in one afternoon/evening. Just what I needed rather than the stop-start of 10 pages here or there that I have been doing lately. I used to love reading novels like that, just picking one up or buying one on the way home from work, and barely putting it down again until it was finished. This is not however good for insomnia.

“I’ll tell you,” he said

Trains and Lovers is not the sort of book that can’t be put down however. It just a quiet meandering through the lives of four strangers, as they open up, or not, to the people they happen to be sharing a table with on the way from Edinburgh to London. There are links through the railway, metaphors on what this journey is part of and just an unburdening.

This may partly appeal to me because I am one of those people who will talk to strangers on trains. On occasions I’ve found I’m closer to those strangers in terms of common links than might be expected. Then there is of course also the railway theme. I’m a bit of a train spotter, and hoped for more of a description of that train, even if I have a mental image of what it must surely be.

But above all it is an Alexander McCall Smith book, in which nothing terrible can happen, the language flows smoothly and there are just enough hints of intellectualism to make the pleasure of such a light book less guilty.

How do you get out of a reading slump?


The Forgotten Affairs of Youth/The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith

The Uncommon Appeal of CloudsThe Charming Quirks of Others

I have been neglecting my favourite fictional philosopher of late, so decided to pick up the latest two Isabel Dalhousie novels. They were exactly what I expeted from them, lightweight looks at Edinburgh social life, littered with Isabel’s internal philosphical debates and cultural references.

In some ways her life never changes, even as she negotiates her relationship with Jamie and her niece, and little Charlie grows up. Of course I don’t want her to change too much, her blessed life is the escapism that this series offers.

AMS is an astoundingly prolific author, especially given he only came to writing novels post “retirement” and this is definitely my favourite of his series.

44 Scotland Street – Alexander McCall Smith

Got a couple of more serious books on the go, but have been rather sleep-deprived this week, so fell back to Alexander McCall Smith for more comfort reading.

44 Scotland Street was written as a daily novel in The Scotsman so has wonderfully short chapters which stand alone well (did I mention this was a sleep-deprived week yet). And of course its a beautifully gentle novel in which the most serious offence is a bit of lying and narcissism. And how can you fail to love a book in which one of the characters spontaneously makes up “Chinese Scottish” poetry?

La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith

A stand alone Alexander McCall Smith novel, this book tells the tale of Lavender, La to her friends. An educated country woman, she is driven out of London to Suffolk when her husband abandons her on the eve of world war two.

As she establishes her new life in a small village we learn how close communities pull together in hard circumstances, and how music and friendship together can help heal a broken heart and give hope for a better future.

I thought that La lacks the depth of character that Isabel and Precious Ramotswe possess, possibly due to the lack of space to develop a relationship with this woman in just one book. It is a pleasant lightweight read for an afternoon with tea and cakes in the garden, but doesn’t offer an intellectual challenge at all.

The Charming Quirks of Others (An Isabel Dalhousie Novel) – Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith’s books are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, the perfect thing to read whilst having a cup of tea on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I now preorder all of them as I finish each one, so get the delight of a surprise book in the post months after ordering.

Isabel Dalhousie lives in an idealised version of upper middle class Edinburgh, where everyone always knows everyone else. A moral philosopher, she spends much of her time worrying about what the right thought and action is in every situation and endevours to follow this. The internal monologue which results from this makes for a very pleasant read.

As in the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, the heroine finds herself unraveling the problems of the community, usually when they have come to her seeking help in resolving them. Isabel spends a lot of her time trying to get to the truth of tangle situations and half-truths, and generally discovers a perfectly reasonable and mundane answer to what she has built up to be a very suspicious set of circumstances. There are a lot of coincidences in these books, but in The Charming Quirks of Others, like the full series, this seems reasonable given a small intellectual community who reside in Edinburgh, sharing common history, schooling and acquaintances.

If you are happy to accept the intellectual community of Edinburgh as a well-connected village then this is a very entertaining and soothing series to read.