The Charming Quirks of Others
Alexander McCall Smith
This is my seventh wander through the gentle world of Isabel Dalhousie’s Edinburgh life, since discovering her last year with the first in the series, The Sunday Philosophy Club. This is the book from which the series takes its name, despite the irritating fact that we have only had the one reference to the Club since then, and have yet to witness an actual meeting. In it we learned that Isabel is a philosopher who edits a quarterly journal called the Review of Applied Ethics, has a completely humorless, spoiled, detestable, ungrateful tart of a niece called Cat (who for some bizarre reason she finds adorable); has a straight-talking housekeeper called Grace, with a passion for spiritualism; and is secretly in love with Jaime, a discarded boyfriend of the aforementioned silver-spoon slapper.
By the time we reach this latest outing – The Charming Quirks of Others – Isabel has become the owner of the Journal (I forgot to tell you that she’s loaded); still hasn’t copped on to the fact that her niece is a miserable little user who is incapable of loving anyone but herself; still has the crusty Grace housekeeping but also child minding due to the fact that Isabel has since landed the impossibly beautiful (we hear this a lot) Jaime and has a child, little Charlie, with him. She still seems to think that she is hockeyed with too much work although to the rest of us it looks as if she has a damned near idyllic existence.
I have no idea why I am so addicted to these novels. They are essentially the same each time: nothing really happens; they are low-key to the point of almost being catatonic; and yet I find them irresistible! I take notes of people I’ve never heard of and look them up afterwards, because the reader will pick up new facts on unusual things every twenty or so pages; and that can’t be bad.
There are also passages where you find yourself nodding in agreement:
“They walked up through Charlotte Square, past the well- appointed offices of the financiers. ‘Money,’ said Isabel, ‘likes to clothe itself in respectability, doesn’t it? And yet why should we kowtow to financiers? All that these people do is lend money to people who actually do things.’ She gestured towards the well-set faςades of the classical square before continuing, ‘but they – these people in their offices – end up having far greater status than those who actually do things with that money…’
“Isabel said that she was not sure that respect should be based on a person’s job alone. A good and conscientious emptier of rubbish bins, she suggested, was better than a self-serving accountant. Yet a job might say something about a person’s character: a nurse was likely to be more sympathetic than a futures trader, although not inevitably so.”
God knows what anyone makes of these novels if they approach them thinking that they are in any way ‘mysteries’ or that Isabel is some sort of ‘amateur sleuth’. Even though it is done, that really is false advertising. In fact, anything that she is asked to investigate she tends to solve – if you could even call it that—by sheer good luck; and in this latest book she is particularly bad at jumping to ridiculous conclusions. Also, she is really annoyingly insecure about Jaime whilst he comes across as an awfully weak man this time, hiding behind her skirts.
This one is from 2010 and I hope that this wasn’t the point at which the series was winding down, because I still get huge satisfaction from it. We’ll see.