Number 14 in my favorite McCall Smith series featuring Isabel Dalhousie, moral philosopher extraordinaire. While the narrative in these novels feature every day troubles such as family disagreements, child rearing, and interpersonal … irritations, the real story is the deep and well-expressed thoughts they trigger in our editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. The musings of her “tangential mental life” are endlessly intriguing, insightful, and thought provoking. Her brand of philosophy is never dry — it is philosophy as applied to actual human lives.
I love McCall Smith’s writing — it consistently reminds me of the beauty of the English language and embeds new (to me) or rarely used words that I find absolutely stimulating. Well, I never said I wasn’t a weirdo! Two of my favorites from this volume: adumbration and purlieus (if you like words, look them up!)
He always tackles topics of current concern, and no topic is left un-thoroughly discussed. No slogans, no strict identification with any party line. Characters get to examine and evolve their own thoughts and principles (sometimes with a little gentle help) into something that better adapts to their current situation.
I always feel calmer after reading one of these books.
Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Pantheon and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 19th, 2022.
An Isabel Dalhousie book. For those unfamiliar with McCall Smith’s less well-known protagonist (Mma Ramotswe of Number One Ladies Detective Agency is far more popular), Isabel is a philosopher of independent means. She serves as the publisher and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. What an unusual character on which to base a series! These books center around questions of morality, and amidst the light plots that loosely guide each episode, we are treated to a constant stream of philosophical musings and epiphanies. I love the fact that rather than read the (probably) dry research papers that populate Isabel’s Review, we instead get to hear the intriguing summaries.
In this installment, Isabel is asked to serve as executor of a dying man’s trust while simultaneously coming to terms with her niece’s engagement to an (to Isabel) unsuitable man. These situations give rise to musings about the accidents of love, moral obligations, moral strangers, the sphere of moral proximity, and what it means to act graciously. Populated by the educational elite of Edinburgh, this series also gives rise to discussions on a wide variety of topics — this time including Himalayan languages and Scottish Country dancing.
I have a very good vocabulary and have read most of McCall Smith’s books and yet he *still* surprises me with new words. This time: Gluckschmerz and commensality. Gluckschmerz is feeling pain in the face of another’s success — the opposite of Schadenfreude. Commensality refers to the positive social interactions that are associated with people eating together.
My favorite phrase in the book: “the suppurating corruption of greed.”
Thank you to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on July 28th, 2020.