Any book by Alexander McCall Smith is the literary equivalent of your favorite chocolate indulgence. You know it will be sweet, it will make you feel good, but won’t offer a lot of nutrition. McCall Smith became best known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but his Isabel Dalhousie Series is also one of my favorites. Isabel is half-Scots, half-American, independently wealthy thanks to a comfortable inheritance, and the editor of a philosophy journal. Isabel’s identity as philosopher pervades every scene. She is a people watcher. She loves to become involved in helping others solve their problems, particularly strangers. She loves Edinburgh and its architecture provides a gentle backdrop to her musings and is mapped onto the inside covers. No matter what action, Isabel wanders into the philosophical implications of her actions and the actions of those around her. She ponders the origins of cultural practices.
In The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, Isabel helps a fellow philosopher on sabbatical find her father. Her young son Charlie and her young musician fiance Jamie as well as housekeeper Grace play supporting roles. When is it better to lie? What is the role of etiquette in social exchanges? What is our responsibility for the actions of others that we have influenced? These are some of the questions Isabel takes on in this installment of her adventures.
The plot is gentle. There’s no great crescendo and then resolution. Rather, the trajectory is like a few weeks in anyone’s life and Isabel is like visiting with an old somewhat flighty friend.