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.

 

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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.

 

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.

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.