Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Lost Art of Gratitude

The Lost Art of Gratitude / Alexander McCall Smith
Toronto: Knopf, c2009.
362 p.

I did say I've been having a bit of a McCall Smith fest this week; he has so many books out at the same time that it is next to impossible NOT to have a new one to dig in to! This one is the latest in the Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh. I love this series because I like Isabel quite a lot. She is a philosopher and edits a philosophy journal, so there is a lot of scope for moral asides and ethical ponderings, an aspect of McCall Smith's writing which I appreciate very much. In these later books she has a baby, which is not my favourite bit of this series by a long stretch, but at least it seems to make Isabel happy! And I like to read him writing about Edinburgh - the love of the city comes through strongly and makes me want to hop on the next plane and visit, to see all the landmarks and to soak in the atmosphere that he describes so evocatively.

This installment of the series brings Isabel a few more conundrums to deal with; her arch nemesis Professor Christopher Dove accuses her of publishing an article which is full of plagiarism. Isabel is more than equal to this charge however, and neatly performs an end run on his scheming. She experiences the enmity of her niece Cat when she and her partner announce their plans to marry (this could be a result of the fact that Isabel's partner and father of her child is her niece's previous boyfriend) -- but Cat comes up with her own fiancé in response, a tightrope walker named Bruno, which you just know won't end well. Isabel also re-encounters Minty Auchterlonie, a wicked woman to whom Isabel gives a second chance, hoping that she is not as awful as she seems. And Brother Fox, a wild fox who has been spotted in Isabel's garden since book 1, comes to require Isabel's help. It is all in very much the same style as the previous books in the series, but does not feel repetitious in any dull way. It reveals shades of all the characters which add to their fullness, and feels like a visit to old friends.

Like always, reading the latest by McCall Smith adds quotes to my collection, and encourages a slow read, or a reread of favourite passages. There is something quaint about his writing, a habit of writing passages that can stand alone. I find this quality in a lot of the Victorian fiction I read; there is always more to copy out in older books somehow -- but it is a quality I greatly enjoy.

Next up is a new Mma Ramotswe story, to be published in early 2010 -- hurrah! But before then I'll be talking about a different take on Mma Ramotswe...that of HBO. I've been watching the series on DVD this week and will chat about those a little later.


  1. The Dalhousie books are on my list to try at some point. I love the Mma Ramotswe stories, the few I've read, and I've got La's Orchestra Saves the World on the list too. Bumping them up...

  2. I don't know how I missed that this one came out recently. I have now requested it from the library!

  3. kiirsten - he writes so many series and is hard to keep up to! But I really recommend his stand-alone novel in the Canongate Myths series, Dream Angus.

    Marg - I know, my library didn't order this one...I had to get it from another library so I wasn't the first in line! :)


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