The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

I've been reading Alexander McCall Smith for years. When I reached the end of the Precious Ramotswe series (at least temporarily) last year, I decided to give his Isabel Dalhousie series a try. This series is set in Edinburgh, an attractive venue, and, appropriately enough for that place, Isabel is a philosopher who edits a small philosophy magazine. This is the fifth book in the series.

In this entry, Isabel, the philosopher, explores the meaning of chance and the role and effect of guilt and jealousy in human lives. Chance, of course, is a constant which we all deal with, as are, to a greater or lesser extent, guilt and jealousy.

Guilt, in this instant, comes into the equation when Isabel is asked to look into a situation in which a doctor has been accused of negligence in a drug test that eventually led to the death of a man. She explores and comes to feel that the man is innocent and that there should be some way to repair the damage that has been done to him. Then she meets with the man and all her theories are exploded.

Jealousy is a very unbecoming trait, one that Isabel wrestles with throughout this book. She is jealous and insecure about her lover, Jamie, who is also the father of her child. He is several years younger than she and Isabel feels instinctively that their relationship is doomed as they grow older. She sees rivals for his affections at every turn - both male and female - and she responds by manufacturing crises in her own mind.

In fact, all of the crises in this book are of Isabel's own manufacturing and, frankly, Isabel is a bit of a bore. All the action is inside her head and nothing ever really happens to her. She constantly reminds us, as we are privy to her thoughts, that she is very, very rich and nothing can actually touch her.

Everytime I read a book in this series, I am always irritated by this - the inaction and the self-satisfied smugness of the main character - but then time goes by and I think to myself, "I wonder what Isabel Dalhousie is up to. Maybe I'll read another of those books and give her another chance." It's just possible that "chance" could change things and that all will be different this time. But it never is.

I won't deny that these are pleasant enough reads. Smith is a good writer. I just wish his main character were a bit more dynamic and appealing.


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