The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: As delightful and thoughtful as ever, like visiting an old, favourite friend for tea.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781408706633

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There are some authors whom I pick up with a contented sigh, knowing that I am in safe hands. Alexander McCall Smith is currently my favourite, and thank goodness he is so prolific with his writing that my reading habit is fed on a regular basis! This is the tenth novel in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and we settle down once more to a visit to Isabel Dalhousie in her beloved Edinburgh. Isabel is wondering, perhaps belatedly, if she is sometimes rather judgmental of people. In particular, she’s having an awful lot of qualms about her niece, Cat’s, latest romance. Will Isabel find herself forced to intervene, or can she sit back and let nature take its course?

Isabel simply can’t help but get involved in people’s problems. Sometimes she bumps into those who need a listening ear, and at other times people with no one else to turn to seek her out, having heard of her abilities in solving problems. Isabel’s husband has his qualms about this, of course, and often tries to encourage Isabel to maintain a distance. Still, Isabel can’t help herself, and Jamie knows that it is this generosity of spirit that is part of his attraction to her. This time around Isabel is asked to help in the unlikely situation of a young boy who believes he was reincarnated. Isabel, not wishing to be immediately dismissive, tries to keep an open mind. The situation grows ever more mysterious, and I found this was one of the more intriguing plots that Isabel has had to face over the series. I had no idea where the story would go, and I liked the resolution.

One of my favourite things about AMS’s writing is the ponderings that go through the minds of his characters. Mma Ramotswe is a great one for thinking about things, funny things, serious things, and thinking them over in her head. Isabel, too, spends a large proportion of the books having internal monologues in her head. Jamie comments on it within this book when he notices a certain look upon her face whilst someone is speaking to her, later saying ‘’You get this odd expression as if you’re there, but not quite there.’’ She tells him that she was thinking of a poem and he exclaims ‘’how can you think about that when somebody’s talking to you about something completely different?’’ My query to Isabel would be, how can you think about so much in the short space of time some conversations take?! It seems hard to believe she could possibly have thought about such a range of ideas in such brief moments of time, but then I recall moments in meetings at work when I have drifted for a minute and, in that time, I’ve planned that evening’s dinner, made a mental note about 2 birthdays I need to write cards for, wondered if my daughter’s PE Kit is clean for the following day and mentally added five more things to my to-do list. Perhaps Isabel and I are not so different? Except her daily ponderings are highly philosophical compared to my mundane musings!

Thankfully Isabel and Jamie remain happy together, and their little boy was less of a prodigy in this book so didn’t annoy me at all! I’m somehow always a little bit nervous that AMS will suddenly decide to split Isabel and Jamie up, perhaps because there is an edge of wonder to Isabel yet that she should have been lucky enough to end up with Jamie. Fortunately, they seem only to grow stronger together and hopefully, Isabel will continue to feel increasingly confident in their relationship.

I’m not sure that entering the series at this late stage would be worthwhile. If you want to start, start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, or so Julie Andrews would have it). The dedication to the series will pay off, because at this stage Isabel feels like a very dear friend who I would very much like to sit in the garden with, drinking a nice glass of wine and hoping that Mr Fox would grace us with his presence. The characters are like old friends, and it is comforting to sit down for a while and see what they’ve all been getting up to.

You can find a list of the books in order here Alexander McCall Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club Series series in Chronological Order or if you fancy a stand-alone story to try first then take a look at La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith.

Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie Novels in Chronological Order

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Buy The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith at


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