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TOP 50 REVIEWERon December 11, 2011
"The Forgotten Affairs of Youth" is the 8th (9th if you count a short story, "The Perils of Morning Coffee," available only as an e-book) in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel is a philosopher living in Edinburgh, the owner and editor of the academic journal Review of Applied Ethics, and an independently wealthy woman in her early 40s who has a 2-year-old son, Charlie, along with a much younger boyfriend, Jamie, a somewhat high maintenance housekeeper, Grace, and a rather volatile niece, Cat, who used to be Jamie's lover. In this outing, Isabel is introduced to a visiting philosopher from Melbourne, Jane, who turns out to have been born in Edinburgh and adopted by a couple who immediately moved to Australia. She wonders if it might be possible, after 40 years, to trace the identity of her unknown father, and Isabel is of course happy to look into it. In the meantime, Professor Lettuce is up to his usual manipulative schemes, there's a Judge who's not telling the truth about what she knows, Jamie begins to wonder when he and Isabel will finally get married, and one of Grace's spiritualists has recommended investment in a particular company, a recommendation that results in drastically different outcomes for the investors.... Nothing much ever happens in the Isabel Dalhousie series, but that's one of the reasons that it's so much fun to read - Isabel, as an ethical philosopher, always has to question the motives of everybody, including herself, concerning every word and action undertaken; her mind tends to dart off into little obscure asides, which I as a reader find completely delightful. McCall Smith is an extremely prolific writer, fielding a number of different series at the same time (the best-known of which is probably the "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series) and publishing a good book or two in each one every year; yet that level of productivity doesn't reduce the quality of his writing at all. A joy; reocmmended!
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"For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." -- 2 Corinthians 13:8 (NKJV)

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.
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on May 18, 2014
This is a very important book, dealing with serious issues. It was to be expected that, if the author is a philosopher, and he creates his heroine also a philosopher, the reader can one day look forward to a book on philosophy. But there is no reason to worry about an ontological treatise or epistemological contradictions. This book is dealing strictly with moral issues. In life moral questions are almost a daily concern. Isabel in the book is dealing with them and also thinking about them. It is not always, not even often, a question of life and death. More it is- how not to hurt, yet remain honest.
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 .
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on March 24, 2013
I'm always surprised how McCall Smith manages to not gloss over the darkness that can lurk in human hearts in such a gentle slow unraveling way. I always feel peeled down to a more essential layer after reading one of his books
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