“The Careful Use of Compliments” by Alexander McCall Smith

The fourth of The Sunday Philosophy Club Series see us back with Isabel Dalhousie, who having fallen in love with Jamie, who is not only her niece’s ex-boyfriend but also fourteen years her junior, also fell pregnant and at the start of this book has had her first son, Charlie. Isabel is not only a mother, she is also the editor of the philosophical magazine Review of Applied Ethics, but her professional life is in trouble with the arrival of radical Professor Christopher Dove.

As with any working mother, Isabel tries to balance the various parts of her life, family life with Jamie and Charlie, managing the home with opinionated housekeeper Grace, her strained relationship with niece Cat, and her career with the magazine.

The joy of the Isabel Dalhousie novels is that Alexander McCall Smith uses his heroine to give the reader time to contemplate the moral and ethical challenges that face each of us every day. Whilst on the surface, the mystery of the authenticity of the paintings of a Scottish artist are the main plot of the book, this story is really just an extension of the previous novels and continue our journey through Isabel’s thoughts and ethics. I thoroughly enjoy these novels, and welcome the opportunity to sit back and consider the implications of the moral decisions we each make every day. Isabel is never allowed to preach to us as readers, and instead, is a vehicle for the author to give us the various choices we have when thinking about situations we find ourselves in, without ever saying one way is the right way, and always showing that whichever path we choose may still not give us the outcome we would like.

I love reading this series of novels so much, that it is one of the few books I will buy in hardback and not wait for either the paperback or reserve through my local library. The Careful Use of Compliments does not disappoint. We see Isabel with new challenges to give her consideration to, and for me, she is a genuine heroine. Her character develops and grows with every new book, and I aspire to have her intelligence and compassion. While she lives a privileged lifestyle, she is never ostentatious with her fortune, and strives to be a good person.

Edinburgh is also a character of its own in these books, and Alexander McCall Smith writes about it and its society with such warmth, that I feel I know the city without ever having visited. In my opinion, he writes Edinburgh as Richard Curtis portrays London in his films.

Wonderful book, charming location and lively characters, a great addition to the Isabel Dalhousie series. I loved it.


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