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Isabel Dalhousie is a divorced woman in her forties, of independent means and with a job she likes as the editor of a philosophy journal. Life is good, but she can't help but feel that there is a hole in her life, and she tries to fill this by 'helping' other people. She wants to buy a house for her housekeeper, find her niece a suitable boyfriend and find a solution to the apparently dodgy relationship between two Americans she happens to meet. On top of all that, she is falling in love with Jamie, a man fourteen years younger than herself who also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of her niece. Can she help everyone along, including herself, or is she heading for a life that is way more complicated than she had envisaged?
This is the third book in the Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith. I have not read either of the first two books, although I've read quite a few of the author's novels set in Botswana. Perhaps because the African series revolves largely around crime, I had expected this one to be similar; however, it is much more about (fairly) ordinary people and their lives in Edinburgh, with little in the way of crime mentioned. However, more about that later when I comment on the book's plot.
I really liked Isabel Dalhousie as a character, probably because I could see an awful lot of me in her. Isabel is in her forties and single, and although largely content with her life, she is beginning to feel that she is missing out on a relationship and family. She is a thoughtful woman who cares about other people and how they think of her - her niece's opinion is particularly important, which often causes problems because her niece is particularly opinionated. I thought she was very well-drawn, perhaps surprisingly so as the author is a man. Some will probably find her interference in other people's lives to be a little annoying, but it is so sensitively done that I found it hard to take any issue with her. Most importantly, Isabel is someone that I felt I could understand and, as a character, she is completely convincing.
Another aspect about her that I liked was the love affair with a much younger man. Isabel has deep concerns about this, feeling sure that Jamie will eventually leave her and break her heart. However, she is still willing to give the relationship a go if Jamie is, deciding that, for once, she should follow her heart and not her conscience. I liked this angle; all too often, it is considered acceptable for older men to have younger women, but not the other way around, and it makes a pleasant change to consider an older woman with a younger man. I felt as though the author had put a great deal of thought into the 'ethics' behind this kind of relationship and it managed to ring very true.
The biggest downfall to this book is the lack of plot. I was partially disappointed because there was no crime involved; I kept expecting someone to be found murdered or go missing, but it wasn't to be. The book really is about Isabel's musings on life and the people around her. This needn't have been a downfall - I really liked Isabel and have a similar outlook on life - but I did feel that there needed to be a point to the book and I just couldn't find one. The relationship between Isabel and Jamie is just not enough on its own to carry the book, and very little else of any merit happens. There are a few stops and starts - for example, the American friends of Isabel have a relationship that could potentially go horribly wrong, and Isabel finds out that her own (dead) mother had an affair with a younger man - but both threads fizzle out and die before they can really go anywhere.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the author wanted to write this book as a way of getting his own thoughts and opinions down on paper. This would have been fine, if they had been put down in a more organised way. Instead, the author focuses on ethics and philosophy which, although occasionally thought-provoking, is too vague to really add much to the story. There are also any number of cultural references thrown in - Scottish poetry and art, and the odd poem by W H Auden - but instead of blending into the background of the story, it just seems rather pretentious, as though McCall Smith is just showing off about how educated he is.
Ultimately, there were times that I found the book hard-going. Not that there was any difficulty in understanding what was being said, but rather I would realise that I'd read a whole page and hadn't really taken anything in, simply because there was nothing of interest to take in. If it hadn't been for the relationship between Isabel and Jamie, I would probably have given up on the book all together. It may be that, as part of a series, it makes much more sense to have read the first two books, so that the characters make up for the lack of plot. Then again, if the first two books are anything like as plot-less, I have no desire to go back and read them.
Language-wise, the book is very easy to read. It doesn't come across in the way that the Botswana novels do - overly simplistic with very plain language - but there isn't much in the way of long words so that the reader needs a dictionary to understand what is being said. Descriptions of Edinburgh and Scottish life and customs are well worded and do at least partially make up for the lack of story-line; however, I still think that there are better books to read if Scottish culture is what you are after.
I just can't get excited about this book. I may remember Isabel as a character, but there is absolutely nothing about the plot that will stay in my memory and I am sure that this is a book that I will be passing on as soon as possible - I really have no desire to ever read it again. I think if you have read and liked either of the first two books in the series, then this might be worth reading; otherwise, I really can't recommend bothering with it. Two stars out of five.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99 (although I picked it up in Poundland for just £1). It is published by the Little Brown Book Club and has 336 pages. ISBN: 9780349118055
The Right Attitude to Rain - Alexander McCall Smith > Reviews > The Right Attitude To Rain
Fiction - Crime - ISBN: 0349118051
The right attitude to Rain is the third novel in the Isabel Dalhouise Series. The main characters are Isabel, Her niece Cat, Grace her housekeepr. There is an American couple and Jamie who was Cat's ex boyfriend.Isabel has fallen in love with Jamie who is fourteen years her junior . Jamie and Isabel viewed a flat together and the owner mistook them for a couple and lowered the price. In fact Isabel was looking for a place to buy for her housekeeper Grace. Then we read how Isabel takes this and battles with her conscience in doing the right thing. We do get introduced Isabel's cousin Mimi and husband who are staying with Isabel .They play a vital part in the book as you can see while reading the book. Mimi introduces Isabel to Tom and Angie who she had met in the Scottish Gallery earlier on. She was invited to go with Mimi and Joe for a weekend stay with tom and Angie and the mystery starts to enfold. Isabel's character really develops in this book and it is very entertaing to read. The descriptions of Edinburgh and Scotland are delightful . I really did enjoy this book I find that he is an excellent writer.
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The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain - just as in life the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have. Bruised in love by her faithless Irish husband, Isabel Dalhousie is a connoisseur of intimate moral issues: she edits a philosophical journal and spends a great deal of her time considering how to improve the lives of those around her. There is her housekeeper Grace, whose future she must secure; her niece Cat, who is embarking on a new relationship with a dubious workaholic mummy's boy; and even an American couple newly arrived in Edinburgh on a tour. And then there is Jamie, Cat's ex-boyfriend, a handsome, gifted musician fourteen years Isabel's junior, with whom she is slowly and hopelessly falling in love. Intensely thoughtful and consistently entertaining, THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO RAIN is shot through with compassion and unassuming intelligence.