Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review: The Sunday Philosophy Club

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: Scottish-American philosopher Isabel Dalhousie is a single, middle-aged, independently wealthy woman who edits the Review of Applied Ethics and presides over the club in the title (of which we don't actually see much). When she witnesses fund manager Mark Fraser fall from a balcony after a performance at the Edinburgh Concert Hall, she feels obligated to investigate the young man's death because she was the last person to see him alive. The more she thinks about Fraser's fall, the less accidental it seems and there are several suspects who might have pushed him - his shifty roommate, his colleague's scheming spouse and a disgruntled broker. Other characters include Isabel's beloved niece Cat who is constantly having man trouble and Grace, Isabel's housekeeper "who sizes up society's reprobates in two syllables or less."

Overall: Apparently it's Alexander McCall Smith week here in the reading room! I somehow ended up with 2 of his books on the Title list for the Alphabet Challenge. I actually read this one last year on our trip to Scotland as part of my plan to always try and travel with books from/about the places I'm going. As previously mentioned, I'd loved 44 Scotland Street, so I was looking forward to this new series. Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed.

On the plus side, his ability to portray Edinburgh vividly is still in evidence, as Isabel walks through the city a lot and visits many distinct places. One of the plot points is a painting by the artist Elizabeth Blackadder - imagine my delight to discover that the friends we were staying with went to school with "Lizzie" and the she played field hockey! And I just learned that the Really Terrible Orchestra does exist and that McCall Smith plays the bassoon in it, which I think is quite lovely. So he won me over there.

But Isabel and the mystery did not. I really didn't like Isabel at all. I found her to be a busybody and it kept running through my mind that it's very easy to be a philosopher judging everyone else's ethics when you have no husband or children to care for, a full-time housekeeper for your lovely home, and no need to work for a living - her journal doesn't have much of a circulation, it's not enough to keep her from poking her nose into Cat's love life and everyone else's business. I also thought that she took advantage of Cat's still-smitten ex-boyfriend by dragging him along on her "investigations."

And as for the mystery element, well, I just didn't really care much who pushed Fraser and when it finally came to light, it wasn't particularly surprising or dramatic.

But I do enjoy McCall Smith's writing, so I think I'll have a go at The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and see if I like it any better.


raidergirl3 said...

I agree, it wasn't much of a mystery, but I found Isabelle unintentially hilarious, with her Sunday philosophy club that she couldn't get anyone to come to! She was so clueless about life, and yet wanted to be a part of things. I eventually plan to read another one of these.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

"Unintentionally hilarious" and clueless are good descriptions of Isabel!

Unknown said...

Hi Tiny - I couldn't agree more - I listened to this one and found it REALLY slow. I liked the main character - old lady with backbone from another time period(I'm partial to them), but the story was just not that engaging. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency titles, on the other hand, are truly delightful.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

I'm glad it wasn't just me - I really, really wanted to like it but just didn't. I do hope to read the No. 1 Ladies' ones, though. Maybe I'll even try listening to them, like you! :)