The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

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Buy The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: I look forward each time to the familiarity of returning to characters that I know and like, especially with a writer that a trust and admire. Take it slowly, and let his words wash over you, leaving you feeling calm and safe and that perhaps the world isn't such a terrible place after all.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Little Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408700631

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I should say to begin with that it would probably be tricky to leap into reading this series with this latest book. This is the sixth book in the Sunday Philosophy Club series and returns us to the life of Isabel Dalhousie, our gentle philosophising heroine. She is still living with her partner, Jamie, and her son Charlie, editing her philosophy journal, and of course interfering in the lives of others. Her niece, Cat, has another dodgy boyfriend, this time a tightrope walker... Her 'enemy', Christopher Dove, is causing more friction and somehow, at a toddler's birthday party, Isabel simply can't help herself and finds herself embroiled in the woes of a previous foe, Minty Auchterlonie.

Confused? You might be if Isabel is a stranger to you. And you might be a little daunted at the thought of having to read five other books before even beginning to read this one, but don't be faint-hearted - it's worth it! The characterisation builds and grows slowly throughout the series, and I look forward each time to the familiarity of returning to characters that I know and like, especially with a writer that I trust and admire. Take it slowly, and let his words wash over you, leaving you feeling calm and safe and that perhaps the world isn't such a terrible place after all.

I devoured this book. I am, if you haven't guessed already, an Alexander McCall Smith fan, and he is one of those rare writers whom I actually buy in hardcover so eager am I to read each new installment in his various series of stories. I remember when I read the first Sunday Philosophy Club book that I was initially a little unsure about Isabel. She's such a rambler, in her own little internal monologues, that I sometimes lost track of what on earth she was thinking about. But she grew on me, and I now love how her mind goes off in little tangents as she's thinking. She's a wonderful, conflicting character, both likeable and annoying. She's often blind to what's staring her in the face, she's a terrible meddler and gets caught up and tangled in other people's business all the time, but she's essentially a good person, and very realistic as a character.

My only quibble with her in recent books is that her little boy, Charlie, is so unbelievably well behaved and she is such a calm and contented mother! Of course she has her housekeeper, Grace, to help out with child care, and Jamie is a very hands-on dad so that makes a difference, but all the same she never seems to be running out of the door, hair unwashed, odd shoes on, with a screaming child in tow which is pretty much my experience of motherhood! Isabel always seems so... awake... and Charlie, her little boy, is a marvel, happy and cheerful at all times, who eats anything and everything including, in this book, olives. This isn't unheard of as I do know other tiny tots who love an olive or two... but I personally rolled my eyes a little at those parts since my toddler won't go near any food item that's green or remotely healthy.

So anyway, back to the book in question. Well, we're still in beautiful Edinburgh and there are more local references for those who know and love the city. I like the little snippets of Scotland that McCall Smith slips in here and there, through description, language, locations and social conventions etc. There are occasionally phrases that stick in my mind - here he's speaking about the old Scottish language that had words for this little bit of a small island, this land of rain and clouds and shafts of poetry which I loved, and also when he has another character say there's a certain sort of look that you get a lot of in Scotland, in which the eyes are, well, almost translucent. You look through the eyes and you see something else - you see a whole country, light made thin by Scotland. You know our light, how thin it is; you know our colours.

He has such a gentle way with humour too, so I'm never rolling on the floor laughing but I often snort over something or smile. Or he notes little thoughts that tick over in my mind or I find myself nodding in agreement with. For example, I enjoyed when Isabel is thinking about transferring her vinyl records into an electronic form and she says as a series of ones and zeros it seemed to her that something was being lost, in the same way that books might be lost when their contents are rendered digital. And bookshelves, and libraries, and printing presses, and binderies; if people spoke of books as friends - which they so often were - then could they say the same of an electronic file?

I hesitate to brand this as a 'comfort read' because that phrase somehow sounds so bland, so boring, but AMS' books do make me feel comfortable. Even though there may be troubles I feel safe in his writing, knowing that things will be okay, and there is a great deal of comfort in that feeling, bland and boring as that may sound.

He actually touches on the issue in this book when Isabel is speaking about how children like simple stories. It was just too easy to say that adults did not like stories that were simple, and perhaps that was wrong. Perhaps that was what adults really wanted, searched for and rarely found: a simple story in which good triumphs against cynicism and despair. That was what she wanted, but she was aware of the fact that one did not publicise the fact too widely, certainly not in sophisticated circles. Such circles wanted complexity, dysfunction and irony: there was no room for joy, celebration or pathos. But where was the fun in that? If you love a gritty, grotty, true-to-life tale of despair or drama or violence or fast action then you're looking at the wrong book review. But if you want joy, celebration and pathos then you'll find it here in this beautifully simple story.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you can't face starting this mid-series then you might want to try his another of his books: Corduroy Mansions which is the start of a new series or La's Orchestra Saves theWorld which is a stand-alone book.

Buy The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.com.

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