Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Comfort of Saturdays: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel by Alexander McCall Smith



This is my third adventure with Isabel Dalhousie after The Sunday Philosophy Club and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. I found The Comfort of Saturdays at the most orderly, spacious, and well-lit, bookstore that I’ve yet  found in India (via some mall-walking in Chennai). I try to read these in order, but I find that I’ve skipped a couple. In one sense, this is quite alright because Isabel is Isabel, but she has undergone some major changes in her life that give her even more to think about and to act upon. 

In this book, as well as the others, Isabel “meddles”, as she calls it. Asked by someone to look into a situation, she dives in. As a detective (of sorts) she arrives at seeming conclusions much too quickly. She’s often surprised by wrong assumptions and conclusions, yet she wears her mistakes lightly. I do wish that some of her philosophy training would have included more on hypothesis formation and testing, probabilities, and the like. I’m tempted to send her a copy of Sherlock Holmes and The Black Swan (Taleb). She’s too much Watson—but such a lovely Watson. In addition to looking into whether a doctor has committed the misdeeds he’s accused of, she has to deal with a contribution to her journal by an old nemesis and her visceral dislike of a new acquaintance. The joy of McCall’s writing is that he lets us share Isabel’s struggles to do the right thing. She strives to think like a philosopher, but her instincts prompt her to act as a human being, with all our foibles in the face of all the ambiguities that the world presents to us. 

Besides struggling with how the deal with the dislikes of her life, she must also deal with her love life and the insecurities attendant to it. I marvel at McCall’s ability to display this woman’s pride, intelligence, and beauty (inner and outer), yet also her vulnerability and insecurity. Even Isabel, who seems quite the rock in many instances, struggles with these issues. 

I’ll keep reading about Isabel Dalhousie because I like her company. That’s no small compliment in my book. 

Side Note: One of my other favorite series is set in Edinburgh, the John Rebus novels of Ian Rankin. Dalhousie’s and Rankin’s experiences of the city differ, to put it mildly. How would an “Isabel Dalhousie meets John Rebus” novel work? Like “Bambi meets Godzilla”, I suspect. But together they do put Edinburgh on my “to visit” map.