Since I was having one of my every-few-months bouts with dry-eye syndrome over the weekend I wanted to avoid spending my usual hours and hours staring at the computer so I downloaded the first two installments as audiobooks and spent the day with my burning eyes closed, listening to the novels.
I have mixed feelings about the novels and the heroine, Isabel Dalhousie. On the one hand I have plenty of affinity for her, being around my age - or was, when the first book was published; an interest in philosophy - she actually is a philosopher with a part-time job as the editor of Review of Applied Ethics. She's also attracted to a younger man, who, when the first book opens, is her niece's ex-boyfriend. A good chunk of the stories are devoted to her various philosophical musings which I enjoy, since many of her observations are pithy, well-reasoned and even sometimes funny. And at one point she slams evolutionary psychology and what's not to like about that?
But she doesn't have to work, living off the fortune she inherited from her mother, and at times she seems like a bit of a ninny, and prissy too. Although part of my assessment of her might be colored by the voice of the audio book reader for the series, which I find irritating.
But then again, on the plus side she lives in Edinburgh, one of only four foreign cities I've visited, which also includes Dublin, London and Montreal and Montreal barely counts because it's Canada and we drove there. And really Dublin doesn't count either because I was there for a job and barely got to see anything outside my hotel room and the office.
Anyway, I have vivid and fond memories of Edinburgh, which I visited with my daughter five years ago to see the Fringe Festival. Various locales, some of which I visited, are described in the novels, which is a nice cozy familiar feeling.
And then there's this - early in the second novel in the series, while Isabel is working in her niece's cheese shop, she observes:
Most people led their lives this way: doing, rather than thinking. They acted, rather than thought about acting; this made philosophy a luxury - the privilege of those who didn't have to spend their time cutting cheese and wrapping bread. From the perspective of the cheese counter, Schopenhauer seemed far away.
Which I found a fascinating coincidence - the passage echoes some lines in my J&B script:
The world has to be maintained. That’s why we get paid. We do something worth getting paid for. Nobody wants to pay actors, trust me. And philosophy professors – hah. Philosophy is not so important when you have a stopped-up toilet. And yet philosophy professors are given so much respect.
And Julia is a philosophy professor specializing in Schopenhaur. The novel passage above is the first time that Schopenhauer is mentioned in the series.
So obviously there's much to recommend this series to me - and when you have to keep your eyes closed there aren't many activity options anyway.
One thing I am sure of - the author, Alexander McCall Smith is gay. I tried to confirm this, but so far have not found anything online, but I'd bet big money on it. I don't think there are any detailed descriptions of young women in the books, and I have no idea what Isabel Dalhousie even looks like - I don't think she's been described yet, and she never looks into a mirror.
But he's gone into detail on how beautiful the young men are - and in fact there is an unusually high percentage of beautiful young men in the books, and the author enjoys putting admiring thoughts in the heads of his female characters. At one point Dalhousie's housekeeper gives detailed instructions to one of the beautiful young men on how he could dress sexier. You would never see this kind of thing from a straight male writer.
So that's another point in favor of the series.