Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith

This book was in some ways a departure from the series, in other ways not.

For one thing, instead of being asked to investigate some outside mystery, Isabel Dalhousie is instead preoccupied with matters of the heart in this book - her own heart, as well as the hearts of others. Her traditional nosiness - err, curiosity about the doings of others, I should say - comes into play here. The book focuses far more on character development than the previous two titles, and I enjoyed getting to spend some time focused on Isabel instead of on whatever matter she is investigating this time around.

On the other hand, The Right Attitude to Rain continues in the thoughtful and contemplative tone that I expect from this series. Being a moral philosopher by profession, Isabel Dalhousie can't help but consider the ethical implications of her actions, and she spends a fair bit of time thinking about general moral and ethical issues as well. Although this means the series will always be short on action, long on navel-gazing, it's an interesting sort of navel-gazing that gives you a glimpse into the curious, observant and gently mocking mind behind these books. I offer you a sample of these unique musings on modern life, as Isabel goes about her part-time job of editing the Review of Applied Ethics:

By lunchtime she had read and corrected almost half of the issue. Several of the authors' footnotes had been mangled in the setting, with page numbers disappearing or inflating impossibly and requiring to be deflated. Page 1027 could not exist; page 127 could, or page 102 or 107. This involved bibliographic checking, which took time, and sometimes required getting back in touch with the author. That meant e-mails to people who might not answer them quickly, or at all. And that gave rise to the thought that an article on the ethics of e-mail would perhaps be a good idea. Do you have to answer every e-mail that you get? Is ignoring an electronic message as rude as looking straight through somebody who addresses a remark to you? And what, she wondered, was a reasonable delay between getting a message and responding to it? One of her authors had sent her an enquiry only two hours after sending an initial e-mail. Did you get my message? Can you give me a response? That, thought Isabel, could be the beginning of a new tyranny. Advances in technology were greeted with great enthusiasm and applause; then the tyranny emerged. Look at cars. They destroyed cities and communities. They laid waste to the land. Our workship at their altar choked us of our very air, constrained us to narrow paths beside their great avenues, cut us down. And yet... she thought of her green Swedish car, which she loved to drive on the open roads, which could take her from Edinburgh to the west coast, to Mull, to the Isle of Skye even, in four or five hours, just an afternoon. The same trip had taken the choleric Dr. Johnson weeks, and had been the cause of great discomfort and complaint. it was an exciting tyranny, then, one which we liked.

I have to admit that this series isn't my favourite by Alexander McCall Smith - I read it mostly because I'm waiting for the next No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel - but it does have a unique charm that makes for a fun and restful (though not thrilling and action-packed) read.

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