The Forgotten Affairs of Youth: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel Hardcover – Dec 6 2011
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“Every bit as charming as his No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”
—Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
“Alexander McCall Smith novels never fail to delight...The Forgotten Affairs of Youth [is] no exception, with its gentle humour and philosophical musings.”
“Life is full of mystery, and for Alexander McCall Smith even everyday enigmas can provide a compelling challenge for the engaged observer. That same principle holds true in the Isabel Dalhousie series.... Along the way, readers get to soak up the cozy atmosphere of this Scottish university town and McCall Smith’s gentle good will.... Soothing.”
—The Boston Globe
“You needn’t be a series-long admirer of Isabel Dalhousie to be beguiled by this curious philosopher and casual sleuth.”
“There is plenty of quiet humour and gentle satire in this engaging novel.... Refreshingly upbeat.”
—Otago Daily Times (New Zealand)
“In its own way, McCall Smith’s world is as stylized and hermetic as those created by P.G. Wodehouse or Damon Runyon—a sweet and timeless bubble with its own morality, language and customs. Entering it can be a source of great comfort in these uncertain times.”
—The Seattle Times
“To say McCall Smith is a literary phenomenon doesn’t quite describe what has happened. He has become more of a movement, a worldwide club for the dissemination of gentle wisdom and good cheer. . . . They make a splash of colour in a drab world and provide a genial buffer against the disappointments of life.”
About the Author
ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is now professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including a number of specialist titles, but is best known for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has achieved bestseller status on four continents. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
If you like the series, you'll enjoy the book . . . but I doubt if it will be your favorite . . . except perhaps for one scene near the end.
This eighth installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series has a substantive focus on the secular morality of lying, a plot context concerning the ways that youthful impetuosity creates messy complications, and a series storyline focus on Isabel's happiness with her fiancé, Jamie, and their son, Charlie. If the series storyline wasn't such an emotionally rewarding one, I'm afraid I would have graded this novel as a three-star effort rather than a four-star effort.
I was enjoying all of the little examples of truth and lying, and their implications, until one example seemed to a relativist solution based on the notion of what would create the most happiness for the most people. That solution just didn't satisfy me. Perhaps you'll like it better than I did.
Not much happens other than a few little conversations and incidents, so it's a pretty talky novel. If you like to read about practical philosophy, you'll be thrilled. If you like for a bit more to happen, the book may seem a bit too philosophical.
There's one amusing sequence, though, where Isabel decides to walk a bit on the wild side by looking into a spiritualist's advice. The book could have used a bit more of that.
As a fairly new grandfather, I doted on all of the little descriptions of Charlie's quirks and habits. I suspect you will, too.
Here I have to confess that I didn't manage to warm up to Isabel during the series. She is too cold, too bossy. For the life of me I cannot understand why Jamie loves her. On the other hand I can see very well how suitable he is for her. He can cook, take care of a child, never tells her to shut up, but almost always let her to have the last word. He is light and therefore pleasant to be with, while she is really a feminist, and one wonders how she will relate to her son when he grows up as a man.
If Isabel is not likeable, that doesn't take much away from the importance of the book. Even if I didn't like her, on the other hand I liked the author of the book more than before. He is milder, more understanding that there are issues in life which cannot be solved by setting up a rule and keeping up to it under any circumstances. Life is unpredictable and changeable. Perhaps even Isabel will become more approachable, as Charlie grows up, and she will one day have to take a decision between motherly love and justice.
In any case, I sincerely recommend this book to readers. Even though dealing with serious issues it is a lovely read .
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But it is legitimate to raise the question of whether this ultra-sensitive approach to living makes for a good story. I would argue that it does. I think what saves Isabel's character from being tiresome in this running pursuit of "the golden rule" is that she constantly comes away from her often minute assessments with a clear and profound gratitude for the good things that have come her way and, less frequently, the understanding and acknowledgement that no one can control every aspect of life.
To be sure, McCall-Smith has mounted a few small challenges for Isabel in "The Forgotten...". The most gritty of them is posed by a semi-poisonous mushroom that ultimately leads to a rift with her niece after first giving Isabel a look into the abyss. Sleuth Isabel also jumps into a missing parent question brought to her by an Australian academic who was given up for adoption as an infant. The affair has a bittersweet but satisfactory resolution that provides its own lesson for living.
"The Forgotten Affairs of Youth" moves at a sedate pace and offers few moments of frisson or conflict, but admirers of the series and of the author's insights and purpose will enjoy this episode as part of the larger saga of Isabel and modern Edinburgh (in my opinion).
Writing this, I realise that you could lobby the same accusations of repetitive formulas at the No. 1 Ladies Detective series, but somehow those books seem to hold their charm. I wonder if part of the problem is that none of the secondary characters in this series are terribly interesting or ever seem to evolve in any way. I particular find Isabel's relationship with dreary Jamie to be devoid of any spark (although I was relieved that at least she appears to have given up fretting about whether she is worthy of him). Also, Mme Ramotswe's Botswana always feels like a magical landscape, but current day events sneak into Dalhousie's Edinburgh and sit uneasily with her old fashioned lifestyle and world view.
I adored the early books in this series and there are occasional glimpses that all is not lost, but this is overall a disappointment. The series badly needs a shake up and sadly, this book does not deliver that.
I am frustrated by the continuing strong focus on Isabel's long-time boy friend, now husband, Jamie. Readers know that Isabel is rich, and Jamie is not. Jamie is much younger, and is, to some degree, coasting through life on his musical talents. If Jamie is anything more than a very good looking cipher, the author has not succeeded in convincing me. At least there was some dramatic tension between Isabel and Jamie (was he sexually interested in a another women or man?) in earlier book, now there is none.
Isabel has been approached by a friend to assist a woman who is trying to locate her biological parents. Slowly Isabel manages to piece together the circumstances surrounding the woman's birth, circumstances that, of course, lead Isabel once again, to reflect on the philosophical questions of the Greater Good, and whether or not one should always tell the truth, even if it might cause pain. While she is mulling these and other matters Isabel also has to deal with issues on the home front, once again mending fences with her niece Cat, and considering whether it is time to accept Jamie's marriage proposal.
Fans of this series will enjoy reading the latest adventures of Isabel and her close knit circle of family and friends. Those who are not already fans of this series would very likely be bored by this one. It moves rather slowly and, unless the reader already knew the back stories of the characters, would be quite confusing.