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The Forgotten Affairs of Youth: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel Hardcover – Dec 6 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada (Dec 6 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307399591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307399595
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.7 x 21.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #250,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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.”
The Guardian

“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.”
Publishers Weekly
“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.”
The Telegraph

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).

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"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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Format: Hardcover
"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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Format: Paperback
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d0036b4) out of 5 stars 106 reviews
65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0105ac) out of 5 stars Socrates would have no complaint Oct. 10 2011
By Blue in Washington - Published on Amazon.com
The latest episode of Alexander McCall-Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series continues the meandering life of the protagonist and her circle through the author's beloved hometown of Edinburgh. Much of the novel is spent on Isabel's moment-to-moment examination of what is happening in her mostly tranquil and almost golden life. This, I think, is McCall Smith's core purpose for the series--to call attention to the need to think about each moment of life, take running readings of moral direction and savor the individual moments whenever possible. Socrates' observation about the "unexamined life not being worth living" clearly made an impression on the ethicist author at some point in his life.

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).
89 of 107 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0109b4) out of 5 stars More of the same Sept. 1 2011
By Julia Flyte - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This is the eighth book about Edinburgh-based philosopher and occasional sleuth Isabel Dalhousie. Reading this series, I sometimes wonder if Alexander McCall Smith has a little competition with himself when he writes each book, to see if he can get away with even less of a plot than in the previous instalment. Certainly in this instance the main plot is very sparse and takes up maybe a quarter of the book. It's about Isabel helping an Australian philosopher who is tracking to track down her birth father. The remainder of the book is filled with Isabel's philosophical musings, her relationship with the lacklustre Jamie and the obligatory appearances by the usual long-running characters. I know that this is part of the literary comfort food appeal of the series, but I couldn't help feeling that I'd read it all before. Once again Isabel visits Guy Peploe and discusses landscape paintings. Once again Grace reports back on the events from a seance. Once again Brother Fox lurks in the bushes. Once again Cat is attracted to an unsuitable man. Once again Charlie likes unusual food. I hate to admit it, but I got bored.

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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d010a38) out of 5 stars Still Very Good, but Slipping Dec 21 2011
By A. Mcintyre - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There are enough new characters, and twists and turns in their fate to still rank the latest Isabel Dalhousie book at five stars. I also enjoyed an interesting new depth in Isabel's long and deep thought process concerning small and large decisions (always there I assume, just never such a focus before). I wonder how many people would conclude that telling authorities that his/her neice was selling questionable mushroons (even after eating some of the mushrooms & visiting the emergency room), rather than trying to resolve the issue on a more personal basis with the neice first? Even philosophers get it wrong on occasion.

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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d010df8) out of 5 stars Very boring Feb. 24 2012
By Judith Piazza - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read most of the books in this series and this will be my last. Only part of the book deals with the story line the remainder are rambling thoughts on a variety of subjects. I have enjoyed many of the books in the past; but this is so boring that I will not finish it. a waste of money and my time to read it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d010da4) out of 5 stars A Sweet and Charming Story But....... April 3 2012
By Jeanne Tassotto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
...not really a mystery. My local library shelves this series, along with the author's other series, in the mystery section. I agree with them about the NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series, even though it is very heavy on the 'cozy' and rather light on the 'mystery'. I could even see the mystery categorization of the earlier books in this series, but this - well maybe not. It is a charming story, a very pleasant way to spend a few hours but it just isn't really a mystery.

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.