The Quiet Side of Passion by Alexander McCall Smith

Writing: 5 Characters: 4 Plot: 3

New words (to me):
• akrasia: the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will.
• tricoteuse: a woman who sits and knits (used especially in reference to a number of women who did this, during the French Revolution, while attending public executions).
• rumbustious: boisterous or unruly
• lactucian : the essence of lettucehood, from Latin lactuca (lettuce) — this is a word made up by our protagonist — but it is a good one!))

Another installment of the Edinburgh based Isabel Dalhousie series. Isabel is the editor (and owner) of the Journal of Applied Ethics (as well as the wife and mother). Her life is “lived under a moral microscope” and we are treated to her inner philosophical musings as well as her external adventures.

These “adventures” come from noticing things that aren’t as they should be and getting involved in bringing them to rights. In this book, she meets another character with the same tendency who is able to put it into words: “I can’t stand not being able to do something about things that I think need to be sorted.” I identify with this in a big way!

I love McCall Smith’s writing — his use of language is impressive. I have read most of his 59 (!) books and I still have to use the dictionary for new words with each one. The Dalhousie books explore the moral landscape in which we all dwell but of which we are mostly unaware. As examples, in this book she thinks about loyalty and betrayal, the morality of human-robot relationships, and whether or not music has a moral flavor. The “action” in this installment concerns Isabel’s attempt to get some assistance in the form of an Italian au pair (for the children) and a Philosophy PhD student (for the journal). She also uncovers a potential untruth on the part of a fellow nursery school mum with rather large ramifications.

Thoroughly enjoyable BUT this is the first book of the series in which I found myself slightly irritated by Isabel’s allowing herself to be taken advantage of so easily out of “kindness” and making constant excuses for other people’s poor or selfish behavior. While it all works out in the end she really should know a little better by now!

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