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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Socrates would have no complaint
The latest episode of Alexander McCall-Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series continues the meandering life of the protagonist and her circle through the author's beloved hometown of Edinburgh. Much of the novel is spent on Isabel's moment-to-moment examination of what is happening in her mostly tranquil and almost golden life. This, I think, is McCall's core purpose for the...
Published on 12 Sep 2011 by Blue in Washington

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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of the same
This is the eighth book about Edinburgh-based philosopher and occasional sleuth Isabel Dalhousie. Reading this series, I sometimes wonder if Alexander McCall Smith has a little competition with himself when he writes each book, to see if he can get away with even less of a plot than in the previous installment. Certainly in this instance the main plot is very sparse and...
Published on 1 Sep 2011 by Julia Flyte


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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Socrates would have no complaint, 12 Sep 2011
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Blue in Washington "Barry Ballow" (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
The latest episode of Alexander McCall-Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series continues the meandering life of the protagonist and her circle through the author's beloved hometown of Edinburgh. Much of the novel is spent on Isabel's moment-to-moment examination of what is happening in her mostly tranquil and almost golden life. This, I think, is McCall's core purpose for the series--to call attention to the need to think about each moment of life, take running readings of moral direction and savor the individual moments whenever possible. Socrates' observation about the "unexamined life not being worth living" clearly made an impression on the ethicist author at some point in his life.

But it is legitimate to raise the question of whether this ultra-sensitive approach to living makes for a good story. I would argue that it does. I think what saves Isabel's character from being tiresome in this running pursuit of "the golden rule" is that she constantly comes away from her often minute assessments with a clear and profound gratitude for the good things that have come her way and, infrequently the understanding and acknowledgement that no one can control every aspect of life.

To be sure, McCall-Smith has mounted a few small challenges for Isabel in "The Forgotten...". The most gritty of them is posed by a semi-poisonous mushroom that ultimately leads to a rift with her niece after first giving Isabel a look into the abyss. Sleuth Isabel also jumps into a missing parent question brought to her by an Australian academic who was given up for adoption as an infant. The affair has a bittersweet but satisfactory resolution that provides its own lesson for living.

"The Forgotten Affairs of Youth" moves at a sedate pace and offers few moments of frisson or conflict, but admirers of the series and of the author's insights and purpose will enjoy this episode as part of the larger saga of Isabel and modern Edinburgh (in my opinion).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like meeting old friends, 5 Sep 2011
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Bluebell (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
I've read and enjoyed all the books in this series and looked forward to reading this latest one. If you've been following the the Sunday Philosophy Club books it's probably worth reading, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone who new to the series as the substance of the "detective" element is very slight: most of the pleasure coming from knowing the back-stories of the characters from past books and meeting them again. In previous books I was impressed how deftly the author incorporated philosophical discussions into the narrative such that it seemed natural and unforced, whereas in this book I felt the philosophical analysis of moral issues was the driver of the story. The latter involving a visiting Australian philosopher, Jane, who was adopted at birth by a Scottish couple who emigrated to the antipodes. Jane desires to find out about her birth parents and involves Isabel Dalhousie in her quest. Much of the book diverges from the quest and meanders along with visits to concerts, coffee shops and the day-to day life of Isabel, her partner Jamie and their son Charlie. All pleasant enough and rather like hearing about what old friends have been doing since you last saw them. I probably enjoy these books more because I know Edinburgh well. I lived and worked in the area where Isabel "lives" and when she visits University departments in George Square it brings back memories of when I studied there. My second favorite series is the Scotland Street books, again set in Edinburgh, but find the very similar series, Corduroy Mansions, set in London less enjoyable as the locations mean nothing to me.
I wonder if the author is writing too many series simultaneously and is losing steam by this eighth book in the series.
I think the cover illustration is the best in the series: it's splendid.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, 1 Sep 2011
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Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
This is the eighth book about Edinburgh-based philosopher and occasional sleuth Isabel Dalhousie. Reading this series, I sometimes wonder if Alexander McCall Smith has a little competition with himself when he writes each book, to see if he can get away with even less of a plot than in the previous installment. Certainly in this instance the main plot is very sparse and takes up maybe a quarter of the book. It's about Isabel helping an Australian philosopher who is tracking to track down her birth father. The remainder of the book is filled with Isabel's philosophical musings, her relationship with the lacklustre Jamie and the obligatory appearances by the usual long-running characters. I know that this is part of the literary comfort food appeal of the series, but I couldn't help feeling that I'd read it all before. Once again Isabel visits Guy Peploe and discusses landscape paintings. Once again Grace reports back on the events from a seance. Once again Brother Fox lurks in the bushes. Once again Cat is attracted to an unsuitable man. Once again Charlie likes unusual food. I hate to admit it, but I got bored.

Writing this, I realise that you could lobby the same accusations of repetitive formulas at the No. 1 Ladies Detective series, but somehow those books seem to hold their charm. I wonder if part of the problem is that none of the secondary characters in this series are terribly interesting or ever seem to evolve in any way. I particularly find Isabel's relationship with dreary Jamie to be devoid of any spark (although I was relieved that at least she appears to have given up fretting about whether she is worthy of him). Also, Mme Ramotswe's Botswana always feels like a magical landscape, but current day events sneak into Dalhousie's Edinburgh and sit uneasily with her old fashioned lifestyle and world view.

I adored the early books in this series and there are occasional glimpses that all is not lost, but overall this is a disappointment. The series badly needs a shake up and sadly, this book does not deliver that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On Truth, Lying, and Dealing with Youthful (and Not So Youthful) Folly, 29 Dec 2011
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Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
"For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." -- 2 Corinthians 13:8 (NKJV)

If you like the series, you'll enjoy the book . . . but I doubt if it will be your favorite . . . except perhaps for one scene near the end.

This eighth installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series has a substantive focus on the secular morality of lying, a plot context concerning the ways that youthful impetuosity creates messy complications, and a series storyline focus on Isabel's happiness with her fiancé, Jamie, and their son, Charlie. If the series storyline wasn't such an emotionally rewarding one, I'm afraid I would have graded this novel as a three-star effort rather than a four-star effort.

I was enjoying all of the little examples of truth and lying, and their implications, until one example seemed to a relativist solution based on the notion of what would create the most happiness for the most people. That solution just didn't satisfy me. Perhaps you'll like it better than I did.

Not much happens other than a few little conversations and incidents, so it's a pretty talky novel. If you like to read about practical philosophy, you'll be thrilled. If you like for a bit more to happen, the book may seem a bit too philosophical.

There's one amusing sequence, though, where Isabel decides to walk a bit on the wild side by looking into a spiritualist's advice. The book could have used a bit more of that.

As a fairly new grandfather, I doted on all of the little descriptions of Charlie's quirks and habits. I suspect you will, too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than the last one, but only just, 25 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
I panned the previous Dalhousie (The Charming Quirks Of Others: An Isabel Dalhousie novel (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)) as Isabel spent too much time maundering. She's back to normal in this one (almost) but I'm starting to believe this series is McCall Smith's way of making us wonder "what is the point of philosophy?"

Dalhousie spends far too long debating what's right and what's not - perhaps it's time she discovered empiricism and gained some knowledge of how her (and others') decisions actually work in the real world rather than endlessly agonising about what is (or is not) "right".

As an exercise in how over-rationalisation paralyses action it may be amusing to a rationalist philosopher (or a student of Hamlet) but as a mere punter frankly, she's getting boring, as are her supporting cast.

Her niece Cat is spiky, bordering on nasty (but has not developed as a character for at least three books), Jamie remains a wuss, her housekeeper (who is flat enough that I can't quite remember her name - begins with G?) remains gently eccentric. Lettuce remains a pain (so DO something about it, Isabel, either attack him or cut off all connection)... This series really doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Waiting for the new Scotland Street, hopefully that'll be better!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much honey and not enough plot, 31 Oct 2011
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H. Petre "hpoet" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
I agree with others that the purpose of this series is to create a character whose philosophical musings offer a moral compass, but frankly I found Isabel's too-perfect world tedious, and put the book down several times. Part of the problem for me is that I just don't believe in Isabel as a character. Her maternal feelings only pop up when convenient, and she never, ever changes a nappy or goes to the shops except the deli, or thinks about anything ordinary, such as what to make for tea. She has a housekeeper, but even so...
Like Bluebell, another reviewer,".I probably enjoy these books more because I know Edinburgh well. I lived and worked in the area where Isabel "lives" and when she visits University departments in George Square it brings back memories of when I studied there". Indeed, I even lived in a student flat in Blackfriars Street in the 80s, but here it's portrayed as a little street with a folk instrument shop, albeit near the city morgue. No mention of the homeless hostel and the tramps with their bottles of British sherry, drunk at 7am! So they've moved on, now, but so has Edinburgh, and in Isabel's sugar-coated world there's just hardly ever any unpleasantness, no mention of working-class lives, or people who aren't white, or even much of a plot.
I don't think I'll continue with this series. It's making me want to read more about Ian Rankin's Edinburgh!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read, 2 Nov 2011
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Wrinkly (The planet Zog) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
If you insist on *FLASH*BANG*THUMP* in your reading matter this is certainly not for you. Nor are the others in the Isabel Dalhousie series (nor 44 Scotland Street for that matter). But AMcCS is a master at telling how people think and feel. Gentle, intelligent, and all with quiet good humour. We all know people like these!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars long on philosophy, short on story, 11 Feb 2014
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I have read so many of Alexander Mccall Smith's books; Scotland St., Isabel Dalhousie and the Ladies Detective Agency (more than I can count with both hands) so I am a great fan of the author's gentle wisdom, integrity, humour and story telling power. I get the impression that he is an all round good egg and he would be a welcome guest at my dinner table for his gentlity and culture. However, disappointingly, this story was rather long on philosophical musings and short on story.......conspiciously so, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to write this review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The forgotten affairs of the youth, 28 Sep 2012
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As always AMS does not fail to write about Isabel with humour and poignant reflections. With the lovely descriptions of Edinburgh and careful observations of the people the reader is sucked into the smells and sounds of the city, making me long to visit the streets and city of Edinburgh .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as always, 31 May 2012
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This review is from: The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
Up to McCall Smiths usual standards and find once I've finished one of his series wait with anticipation for the next one. This storyline is kind, gentle and amusing to read. A feel-good series written with warmth and feeling for the characters.
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The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) by Alexander McCall Smith (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2011)
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