I manage to start reading Alexander McCall Smith books from the second in the series; that was what happened with Tears of the Giraffe and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Luckily he makes enough reminders in his books and you don’t have to follow the sequence in the strict order.
This is the story of Isabel, a Edinburgh-based philosopher trying to solve the mystery of a man who has recently received a heart transplant and is haunted by visions which he believes belong to his donor. There is a detective element in the plot, like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. But there’s also romance involved (not with this man). By the way, the book is called Friends, Lovers, Chocolate but I thought that the third item didn’t feature prominently in the book. Did I miss something?
Isabel is hopelessly upper-middle class. She is the editor of the scholarly journal Review of Applied Ethics. She has a housekeeper who comes to clean her house, the same woman who kept house for her parents. She’s engaged in charity; she supports multiple university students. Reads continental newspapers in French and in Italian, has a music room in her house and plays the piano, keeps quoting W. H. Auden. Yet, towards the end of the book, as she’s talking to Grace the housekeeper about the Scottish poet Robert Burns, she thinks “This is one of things that binds us together – in all the privilege of my life, in all that has been given to me through no effort of my own, I am bound to my fellow citizens in the common humanity that Burns spelled out for us” (273). Well, I found that naïve, to say the least.
Being a philosopher, I liked the way Isabel weighs things. She’s calm and measured. And even the most mundane things can elicit philosophical musings in her. Like, upon hearing the phrase “global village”, she thinks “If we lived in a global village, then the boundaries of our responsibility were greatly extended. The people dying of poverty, the sick, the dispossessed, were our neighbours even if they were far away. And that changed a great deal” (85). I think I’m going to use it in my teaching.
At page 135, there was this *WHAM* effect with a very clever turn of the plot; I said to myself, this is McCall Smith at his finest. That’s when I understood I wouldn’t sleep until I finished the book, so I read 142 pages in one sitting last night. The ending was also very much him, with faith in rationality restored 😉
The only thing I didn’t like about the plot was the stereotypical Italian character. He’s friendly and stylish, OK, but he’s also suspected to be mafia (because he’s rich) and also suspected of being gay – or bisexual – because he has manicured hands and he smiles at a waiter in a particular way. That wasn’t necessary. And the plot already relied on a few coincidences, I guess the Italian didn’t have to end up being the man Isabel’s journalist friend interviewed.
OK, next, I read The Sunday Philosophy Club.