Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie, the fortyish editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, lives comfortably in Edinburgh in a house filled with art. She's got a morning room that looks out onto the garden; there's even a fox in the garden. Her mornings are spent with coffee and crosswords, followed by philosophical musings and a few hours of work (she lives on an inheritance, and her editorial work is more a labor of love than a living).

As The Sunday Philosophy Club opens, Isabel is at the symphony, having gone to see the Reykjavik Symphony perform. As she mingles afterward she is horrified to see a young man plummet past her from the nosebleed seats--the gods, as they are poetically known--to his death below. An accident, or something more sinister? Try as Isabel might, she can't get it out of her mind, and is driven to pursue the mystery.

The Sunday Philosophy Club is slow-moving, sweet, introspective, and gently humorous. As much time is spent inside Isabel's head as she turns over ethical issues--to tell a friend of a cheating spouse or not, one's responsibility to tell the truth to a stranger, the place of the white lie in civil society, and the like--as is spent chasing down the answer to the question of the death that starts it all off. The description is rich (I was ready to pack my bags and books and move to Edinburgh), as are the characterizations. Best of all is Isabel herself, whose inner life is deep and thoughtful, but who also lusts, much against her better judgment, for the much younger Jamie (who, in addition to being much younger, is also the ex-boyfriend of Isabel's niece and closest friend, Cat).




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