Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

44. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday - fifth in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2008
finished, 9/27/09

When I read an Isabel Dalhousie book, I am in Edinburgh. I walk the streets with her, I go into shops, I spend time in her wonderful house, and mostly I think. And mostly, that is what Isabel does. A blogging friend told me she felt the pacing was slow, and I wrote her back and said:

'It is SLOW. If you don't like slow, you probably won't care for the series. She walks around, she thinks, she works, she thinks, she gets involved with people, she thinks.' For me this is just perfect. I've never come across a character I could identify with as I do Isabel. I think all the time. I wonder, I ponder. My brain hardly ever stops. I try to get things right. Isabel works really hard to do the right thing, to say the right thing. Here is an example of Isabel thinking about two words many of us leave or receive on a voicemail or text or email most every day:

To say on the telephone, Love you, as she heard people doing, was dangerous, or so Isabel thought, because it made the extraordinary ordinary, and possibly meaningless. ... It was significant that it had already been shortened, and the I had been dropped. What did that mean? That people were too busy to say I love you, or too embarrassed by the subjectivity of the full expression?

Although I've sometimes read these books described as a 'detective' series, I don't see them that way. In each book, there is at least one problem Isabel must deal with. In this book she is asked for help by a woman whose husband has been accused of something which has made him so ashamed that he never leaves the house. An ongoing subject is the philosophical review publication she edits, the Review of Applied Ethics. This involves more thinking about important ideas, as well as deciding which articles are worthy of publication.

The books should be read in order since life changes for Isabel, which is why I am purposely not talking too much about it. If I were just beginning the series, I wouldn't want to know what was going on in book five. All I will say is that I find these books magical, fascinating, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally meaningful. There is serious thought, and there is quiet humor. The characters are mainly kindly souls going about their lives in this wonderful city of Edinburgh.


  1. And Edinburgh is such a lovely place to visit.

  2. I've never been, and I'd so love to go.

  3. Hi Nan! I am going to the book store this weekend....I will look up her series! I love reading and especially series! Thank you so much for your well wishes! I have my highs and lows (mostly highs) and feel so blessed to have such great friends in blog land! I will let you know what I find at Boarders!

  4. I only recently found Isabel, like you I identify with her, and pondering the moral and ethical questions alongside her is like the best sort of conversation. I am reading book 4, The Careful Use of Compliments, at the moment, the last 2 are lined up.
    Alexander McCall Smith is such a refreshing writer in that he makes good people really interesting, so few writers even try to do this, let alone manage it.
    I don't know Edinburgh very well, but reading the stories jogs my memory, such a wonderful city.
    Nice coincidence that we are both reading the same writer, I like that.

  5. I'd love to read these books at some point. I knew Alexander McCall Smith would be for me when a co-worker said that in one of his novels he refers to 'beige' as 'distressed oatmeal'. I love that!

  6. I have the first book in this series but haven't read it yet. I didn't realize there were so many. I'd better get going. I like slow stories as you describe these.

    I like your cover picture today. The quilt at the top caught my attention right away. I hope it's yours.

    While I'm at it - I love reading the Gladys Taber quote about potatoes in your sidebar. (I want to go to the same heaven!) What book did that come from?

  7. Nan, your pictures are just perfect - both the "muddy Saturday" book with the rain boots and your new banner. The quilt is lovely...and your desk is so neat!

  8. I will soon be branching into these, having devoured all of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Guess that means I really enjoy "slow."

  9. This sounds like a wonderful series. I think I'd like it better than the Mma Precious Ramotswe books.

  10. Linda, I think he is just the author for you right now. Uplifting, interesting, cheerful, good people. If you go to fantastic fiction, you may see all his series in order:

    Carole, I so wish you had a blog. I love what you have to say about books. You very often talk about aspects I haven't read anywhere else or thought about. You are an excellent writer. What you said about AMS and good people is really a big part in the books I choose. I do read some darker mysteries, but even they must have a 'good' detective for me to stay with a series. (and I like it we are both reading about Isabel, too)

    Darlene, he is full of wonderful words!

    Margot, I think you will love them. They soothe the soul and enrich the mind. Yes, the quilt is mine. It was made by my aunt in 1927. I mentioned it a long time ago (before we 'met'):

    Thanks, JoAnn. I couldn't resist the whimsy of including my own boots. :<) The computer desk can be really neat because this is all I do there!

    J.G., you and me both!!

    Les, I can't even compare them in my mind. To me they are each perfect in their own special way. I also love the 44 Scotland Street books, and look forward to Corduroy Mansions, and La's Orchestra Saves the World. He is one of my favorite authors, and I'm so grateful for his work.

  11. Didn't you just love the letter Isobel write to a pushy journal contributor (I think it's in The Careful Use of Compliments) and her deliberation over whether to send it? I've studies Ethics and worked on a journal, so as you can imagine, I identify with her too. Oh, and I worked in Edinburgh for 15 years. You would love it, Nan. I do agree about good people, too - the combination of Isobel's carefulness with her tendency to get involved makes her a compelling character. She feels like a real person.

  12. I love your cosy header photo, Nan.

  13. Alexander McCall Smith has been really hit or miss for me. The last was a miss so it has been a while since I tried anything, but I should try again!

  14. I've only been to dinburgh twice and both times only briefly but I absolutely loved it. And the Elizabeth Dalhousie series are wonderfully true to the place.

  15. Geranium Cat, that was such a wonderful comment. I loved every word. I've never studied ethics or even read about it. I'm learning from Isabel. :<)

    Kay, thank you. I thought it might be fun to put my computer on the blog header for a while.

    Kailana, If I don't enjoy a book or author, I just give it up. There is so much out there to read!

    Scriptor S. I wonder if I'll ever get there. If so, I might not want to leave!

  16. Nan,

    I just picked up this book at the library as it was raining. Hope I can get to it today. The sun has come out and the skies are clearing BUT the morning's rain was a punctuation to the title! Again,
    thank you for your wonderful book titles to curl up with.

  17. I haven't read any of these books, but I can see I'm missing out! It sounds as though McCall Smith paints a very different picture of Edinburgh than Ian Rankin does.

    I've visited Edinburgh twice and of course I didn't see the seamier side! I did the tourist thing, travelling on a tour bus and then visiting some of the museums. As my son lives near there now and we're moving to just south of the Scottish borders (in England) I'll be going more often and will take photos to post on my blog.

  18. Out of all the Alexander McCall Smith books, and there are loads out thre as we know, these are my favourite. I do like the Ladies Detective Agency, but there is something about these that sooths my soul. I always feel a quiet satisfaction after reading about Isabel and her life. Have just read her latest one, The Careful use of Compliments and, as always, loved it.

  19. My sister and I are planning (our first!) trip to Scotland next year with a concentration on Edinburgh - think this is a series I should take up...It is something when you really identify with how a person thinks in a book...I remember reading The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken and parts of that book felt like my own thoughts, how I might have reacted etc. Not all of it, of course, but it is a fascinating "click" when it happens.

  20. I so enjoy Alexander McCall Smiths writing and have just finished the second in the 44 Scotland Street series. I look forward to also reading about the adventures of Isobel Dallhousie.
    Nan,I too have a busy brain which rarely stops! Thinking, pondering etc and yes, trying to get things right. You couldn't have described it better!
    I have been to Edinburgh and it is a beautiful city.

    While I'm here. I really enjoyed The Fortnight in September.


  21. I love this series too. I don't always agree with her moral code but find her interesting anyway. I love the Ladies Detective Agency series too. I like books that are slow. It gives you a chance to get to know the characters and think through things with them. I haven't heard of his 44 Scotland Street series. Oh boy!

  22. Nan,
    you've so made me re-think whether or not I gave this book a fair shake. I think I may have been in a wrong frame of mind while reading the first one. I won't rule them out!! :)

  23. Bonnie, thank you for saying that! I love the weather connection. Have you read the ones before this book?

    Oh, yes, I'm sure, Margaret!! I think in either the 44 Scotland Street series or this one, he mentions walking past Rankin's house - I seem to recall a courtyard perhaps? I can't wait for your photos of your new home and area, esp. since I've read a few books set in the Borders.

    Elaine, that's just like I feel. I adore the Scotland Street books but they have a very different flavo(u)r :<) don't they? More slapstick almost with more outrageous characters and a first person narrator dog. I'm so looking forward to Compliments. I've thought of getting all the books and reading them again, one after the other.

    Susan, lucky, lucky you! What a nice thing to go with your sister. Well, what a nice thing to have a sister, period. :<) I'll have to check out The Giant's House again. I know you've mentioned it, and the author before, and I do recall liking it, though I seem to remember there being a little fantasy - over the top section???

    Patricia, I'm so glad you read and liked Fortnight. The Scotland Street books are fun (see what I wrote to Elaine above) but they have such a different feel, in general.

    Debbie, that's just how I feel when I find out an author I love has written more books which I haven't heard of! Corduroy Mansions may be fun for you too.

    Staci - I wondered if you'd read this post. :<) Let me know if you ever try again. I'll be interested.

  24. Thanks for the link Nan, I've just ordered the first novel from the library a talking book so there is a good chance of a nice listen...reading (grownup) books is a bit of a challenge when the children are young isn't it...I've only read his 'Harriet Bean' stories and also one Akimbo story sofar! But must admit that they are fun reads.

  25. Val, I will be so interested to hear what you think. I liked the Harriet B. too, and would have loved reading it to my kids. I listened to a few of the Isabel D. books read by Davina Porter, and they were wonderful.


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