Saturday, 27 December 2008
Christmas - what Christmas?
I was all set up to get up early on Christmas morning and gladden your hearts with a Christmassy post. However, as I went to bed on Christmas Eve I was conscious of a raspy throat and an irritating cough and I'm afraid much of the last two days passed in something of a blur. An indignant blur, at that - two days in bed and I couldn't read! Happily for me, by 7pm last night the shivering was replaced by a somewhat hectic warm glow which banished the aches which were making me so miserable, and over the course of the next few hours I demolished Alexander McCall Smith's The Comfort of Saturdays with a mixture of relief and relish. Never mind that the family were eating Peking Goose (yes, really) without me - I could read again.
I'm not sure that I am up to sustained thought on the subject of the book, but I think many of you are familiar with the Isabel Dalhousie novels, and my recommendation is superfluous. Enough to say that Isabel is, as usual, enmeshed in questions of truth and falsehood and in the subtleties of communication between both close friends and partners and our more distant acquaintances. McCall Smith's sly and teasing wit is directed at pretension, at moral dishonesty, and at all the petty foibles that make up the average person (including Isabel who, while not a saint, at least tries hard). There isn't enough humorous writing about the world of philosophy, in my opinion, but McCall Smith does much to redress that lack; I also enjoy the irritations of Isabel's role as the Editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, a nicely observed theme throughout the series (in this book she composes a quite deliciously malicious letter to a contributor) and can hardly help but envy her new role as the Review's owner. And the scrupulous care with which she conducts her relationships is something we should all emulate.
While these are certainly books which fall quite comfortably within the cosy crime genre, Applied Ethics is very much the mainstay of this series, and anyone seeking dramatic murder is likely to be disappointed (although never fear, Rebus was beavering away in the seedier side of Edinburgh until very recently, though I doubt if he and Isabel met at many parties). Ethical discussion is handled with a considered delicacy and lack of jargon which must surely make it readily accessible, and acceptable to a much wider readership. For lovers of Edinburgh, of course, they are a gift, keeping firmly to the "couthy" parts of the city where a lady of a certain age can safely walk alone.