The Charming Quirks of Others is the 7th in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel has quite a bit on her plate: getting another edition of the Review of Applied Ethics published; looking into a poison-pen letter making accusations about applicants for the principal's position of an illustrious boys' school; dealing with a pretty cellist who has taken a fancy to Jamie; deciding whether to publish an unsolicited review by Professor Lettuce of Professor Dove's latest book; and, not the least, organising her own wedding. As always, Isabel manages to jump to unfounded conclusions whilst being her unpredictable, clever, kind and occasionally exasperating self. On the way, she touches on book reviewers, verb tenses, forgiveness of oneself, politics, punishment, hatred, skateboarders, gossip magazines and ancestors, and gives us an excellent definition of vulgar curiosity. Isabel manages to show some insight into her tendency to misunderstand situations, and towards the end of this novel, has a Mma Ramotswe moment when she reflects on her love for her country. McCall Smith has an uncanny ability to write from a woman's perspective, and many of the conversations his characters have are filled with wisdom and humour. Another thoroughly enjoyable instalment in the Isabel Dalhousie story.
on 21 November 2010
I got this out from the library and really hoped to enjoy reading it over the weekend. However, I found that I had to force myself to read on. The plot is simply too thin, and I do get irritated with Isabel for having so much money that she can afford to buy a Raeburn painting, and, presumably, most anything else she wants. Call it envy!
I agree with a previous reviewer, that the instances of intimacy between Isabel and Jamie appear contrived, as they are usually formal with each other. I hope they will stay together, but let's get the wedding over and done with, instead of spinning it out! Another discordant note is that Isabel thinks that, if it were her choice alone, she would like to go "trekking in the Himalaya" for her honeymoon. Nothing so far in the series has remotely suggested that Isabel is the kind of person that favours such adventurous activity! Unless it's with the Philosophy Society... Give me Scotland Street or Corduroy Mansions any day;the alternating smugness and anxiety of Isabel is driving me away, away, far beyond the Pentlands...
This is the seventh installment in the series about Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher and occasional amateur sleuth and I feel like the series is starting to slowly run out of steam. It's a charming novel but it suffers badly from an absence of momentum. The plot is even slighter than usual. A large portion of the book is about Isabel's relationship with Jamie and they seem to have many philosophical conversations, which are pleasant enough but don't really go anywhere. Otherwise the main storyline is about Isabel being asked to look into the backgrounds of three applicants for a school principal position, one of whom happens to be Cat's new boyfriend. An anonymous letter has been sent to the Board of Governors alleging that one of the candidates has a dark secret.
I can't shake the feeling that Isabel and Jamie just aren't right for each other - despite the fact that their wedding is apparently imminent. Before Jamie, Isabel was a strong woman, but now she spends so much time worrying about whether she's worthy of him. At one point she hears that he has been seen at a movie, which she didn't know he'd gone to. She immediately leaps to the assumption that he is having an affair and tells him she hates him. This didn't feel like the Isabel I know and love. One of her friends says to her: "Occasionally we've asked ourselves if the real threat to your relationship with Jamie might be your finding out that apart from the physical attraction, Jamie did not bring enough to the relationship to keep you interested". Isabel gets all huffy and indignant at this, but I tended to agree.
McCall Smith's Edinburgh is a small town where everyone is connected and even taxi drivers are philosophers. People have no major failings, just "charming quirks". It's the kind of book that leaves you feeling a little lighter in spirit, musing about topics such as the relative merits of Mozart vs the dinosaurs. However if you are new to the series, this is not the place to begin.
on 13 October 2010
I am a big fan of the books written by Mr McCall Smith, I usually keep a Saturday free so I can read each new book in a single day! The Charming Quirks of Others I had to read over a week because the plot wasn't as engaging as the previous books. There are so many questions left unanswered in the book. For example, the reader has no idea what happens to Gordon and Cat or why Eddie doesn't like Gordon. I was also disappointed with the ending because it was so obvious, I was surprised it took Isabel so long to work out who sent the anonymous letter! However, I like the fact that in this book, we get to see Isabel as a 'regular' person - she is insecure about her relationship with Jamie. Questions I asked myself: Is Isabel agist? Is she going to walk away from Jamie? Unlike my favourite lady detective (Mme Ramotswe), I find it hard to warm to Isabel because she is so 'fuddy duddy' and worries too much! Her life is too perfect! I also feel she doesn't treat Jamie as an equal and they never seem to do fun things together like shopping for grocery!! The 'co-bathing' incident in the book felt odd as they are usually so formal with each other in the book!
on 16 October 2010
In this, the 7th Isabel Dalhousie novel, Smith returns us to Edinburgh and to the life of a philosopher. The characters in this series are now so familiar, it's like returning for a chat with old friends.
Once again, we are presented with a small conundrum, carefully weaved into Isabel's life by a series of coincidences and chance meetings. She is engaged to investigate the backgrounds of three applicants for the post of school principal, one of whom, she is told, has a dark secret. In her own life she is battling with her own dark elements: her on-going rivalry with the previous editors of the Review of Applied Ethics; a new boyfriend of Cat's and a rivalry a little closer to home.
The beauty of the mystery elements of these tales is that they are so ordinary; the characters likeable and believable, engaging with the moral and philosophical enigmas of everyday life. Smith has an eye for the foibles of human character; the charming quirks of his title and we are drawn to his amusing evaluation of the human condition.
In places, the philosophising and suggestion at the intellectual adroitness of the author can be a little exasperating, but looking past this, Smith presents another literary triumph to read over a good cup of coffee on a cold winter's day.
This is the seventh book in the series featuring philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and, having read the previous six with pleasure, I knew what to expect with this latest slice of her life. I think the latter will be more enjoyable if you've read the earlier books as there's quite a bit of back story that only briefly touch upon in this book, for example, Isabel is living with, and has a child by, Jamie, who previously had a relationship with her niece but this is only glancingly referred to.
Alexander McCall Smith doesn't expose his readers to the gritty realism of, say, Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, but instead gives a slice of the comfortable world of middle-class life in Edinburgh. A city I know very well, and familiarity with the shops, streets and some of the people mentioned in the stories makes the books all the more enjoyable. However, the books are not just about Isabel's day to day life with her partner, Jamie, their son, Charlie and her interactions with her niece, Cat, and the latter's series of men-friends, but unobtrusively, the author weaves in philosophizing about moral dilemmas that Isabel encounters. I have to admit that usually I don't have much time for philosophy, but McCall Smith is very deft at making these issues accessible and interesting. In each book Isabel tackles moral dilemmas in her life and gets asked to engage in some private detective work: not murders, but usually something involving personal relationships with a moral dimension.
In this book Isabel is approached by the wife of the chairman of a committee convened to choose a new headmaster for a boarding school near Edinburgh. There's been an anonymous letter hinting at some impropriety by one of the three candidates and the wife asks Isabel to investigate, discreetly. This task creates a number of dilemmas for her. Meanwhile, she also has to carry out her work as editor of the journal Review of Applied Ethics. Her old adversaries in the world of philosophy, Professors Dove and Lettuce, figure again in this book as the former has written a book and the latter intends to review it and assumes that Isabel will publish what he writes without her inviting him to do so. She is not pleased as the situation presents her with yet another dilemma!
More troubles heap on Isabel when a fellow musician of Jamie starts to pursue him. This situation provides yet more moral choices for Isabel. I've come to realize from this series and his Scotland Street novels that although the author sometimes puts his main characters in peril they don't, in the end, suffer: leaving the reader feeling happy and content and that all in right in the World.
I don't know if the author will be able to keep up our interest in Isabel as he may have exhausted all the moral dilemmas that a middle-class lady in Edinburgh can plausibly encounter. I hope he can as his kindly and humane books are an antidote to all the crime fiction I read.
on 5 March 2013
After reading a 700 page book on Anti-Semitism, I needed to relax and read a book where I did not have to use my brain cells. So I read this book! Usually I like these books because I recognise myself in Isabel Dalhousie's thoughts. I can myself day-dream like her or reason with myself, and forget time and place. BUT in this book, her philosophical dialogues with herself, were uninteresting. The "mystery" in this novel was for her to find out if the three canditates for a headmaster post at a private boys' school, had some shady past. She did not really put any effort in to it, just drew some general conclusions about two of them, only to find out in the last chapter, that the board of directors had decided to not go with any of the three, but keep the current headmaster. It feels like MacCall Smith wrote this book because his publisher ordered him to do so. There is no heart in it at all.
As for the frustrating relationship with Jamie, her much younger lover and husband-to-be, it just got more vexing in this book. So not even that gave any reading pleasure. The two have independent lives, live parallell lives if you wish. Is that really love? Is it love when you don't dare to confront someone? Is it love when you feel that you have to keep secrets from each other? These two have no problems in the bedroom but they don't TALK to each other except about music, poems, Scotland and their son. When Jamie goes to the cinema with a woman from his orchestra, Isabel only find out about it from her niece's employée, Eddie. Why was handsome Jamie in the cinema with another woman? Because the woman said she is dying and she has never had a boyfriend so could Jamie please fulfil a dying woman's wish and have sex with her? Jamie said no, but not strong enough for my comfort! Isabel had to go and deal with the woman since he would not! What does this say about their relationship? McCall Smith might think he has created a nice character in Jamie. As a woman, I say that he has created a wet noodle that is just staying with Isabel because it's comfortable and whether he loves her or not is beside the point. He doesn't have it in him to ever end a relationship. Both their relationship and the book are as exciting as a dead tuna.
on 4 September 2010
The Sunday Philosophy Club started out well and Isabel was a strong, determined character with an interesting life and social circle. And then came Jamie! At first an interesting development for Isabel but to be honest this story line has reached the end of the road, at least in my opinion. You do start to wonder about Jamie, he's not quite right somehow but it's probably too late in the series now to make him rather bad or to reveal something untoward.
The writing style is as wonderful as ever but the series has drifted away too much from its roots. If there is to be a next book then hoefully it will finish the series and we can all look forward to something very new.
"I find my mind wanders off at a tangent. I think of something - some odd question or hypothesis - and then my train of thought seems to acquire a direction of its own." So confides Isabel Dalhousie, thereby summing up what the bulk of the novel appears to be about.
In the flimsiest of storylines she has agreed to check the backgrounds of three candidates shortlisted for Principal of Bishop Forbes School. An anonymous letter warns that one of them has a secret which could lead to problems if appointed. Her "investigation", however, takes up only a fraction of the book and is almost a non-event: one candidate is virtually ignored altogether; for the other two Isabel relies on gossip from very few sources. Only in the final pages is the matter at long last given prominence - the truth revealed by an unconvincing contrivance.
Like other Isabel Dalhousie devotees, I am accustomed to not much happening - enjoying her gentle reflections on this and that, charmed by details of her domestic life with Jamie and baby Charlie (his first word "olive"). On this occasion, though, I feel the author is really pushing his luck, that "investigation" so ludicrously handled. Badly needed: a firmer sense of direction.
on 18 October 2010
Another of the stories that put me in another world. A great author who had a very good ideas to give to us in his books.