The Forgotten Affairs of Youth – Alexander McCall Smith

This is the latest Isabel Dalhousie novel from one of the world’s most prolific novelists. It’s only a couple of weeks since I read the latest 44 Scotland Street novel (I know these are serialised in The Scotsman so it’s been nearly a year in the writing) & there’s a new Professor Von Iglefeld novel out soon, Unusual Uses for Olive Oil. My favourite series are the Edinburgh series. I love the atmosphere of Edinburgh in these books. Isabel Dalhousie is a wealthy woman, a philosopher, living in Edinburgh with her fiancé, Jamie & their young son, Charlie. Isabel is the owner & editor of a journal, the Review of Applied Ethics, & her life as a philosopher influences every area of her life. Isabel is always aware of her good fortune. Her inherited wealth makes her slightly uncomfortable & she is very sensitive to the feelings of others.

In this latest novel, Isabel seems to have stopped questioning her good fortune in relation to Jamie & is just enjoying being in love. Jamie is younger than Isabel & was once the boyfriend of her niece, Cat. Although Jamie & Cat had broken up by the time he fell in love with Isabel, Cat has always resented their relationship & it hasn’t made their already spiky relationship any easier. The fact that Isabel goes down with mild food poisoning after eating mushrooms bought at Cat’s deli doesn’t help either – or the fact that Isabel can’t bring herself to lie to the food inspector when asked where she bought the mushrooms.

Isabel often finds herself involved in the problems of friends & acquaintances. She’s discreet & genuinely wants to help so she finds herself asked to investigate tricky problems. Jane Cooper is an Australian academic spending her sabbatical year in Edinburgh. She chose Edinburgh partly because she was born there & adopted as a baby. She’s about to turn 40 & wants to find out about her parents. Jane knows that her mother, Clara Scott, was a student who died in an accident about eight years after Jane’s birth, but she knows nothing about her father. Isabel agrees to help & starts making enquiries. Isabel soon discovers a possible candidate, Rory Cameron, who had been Clara’s boyfriend at the time. When she visits him, she discovers a disappointed man whose life had been one missed opportunity after another. He is thrilled to learn that he has a daughter & Isabel arranges for Jane & Rory to meet. But, it’s not as simple a story as Isabel first thought & when she begins to have doubts, she has to decide how much to tell Jane about what she discovers.

Along the way I always enjoy being part of Isabel’s privileged, well-ordered life. Her housekeeper, Grace, is a touchy but warm-hearted woman who goes to spiritualist meetings. When one of the spirits recommends investing in West of Scotland Turbines, Isabel is intrigued enough to ask advice. What is she to think when she invests & the shares go up? Is Grace right to have such faith in mediums & their messages? Then, there’s Isabel’s ongoing tussle with Professor Lettuce over control of the Review. Isabel’s coup in buying the journal is still resented by Lettuce who sends her a paper written by his nephew, Mark, & virtually dares her to reject it. When Isabel meets Mark to discuss the article, she learns a lot about Professor Lettuce – some of it surprising. The readers who commented on my post about the last Isabel novel, The Charming Quirks of Others, will be pleased to know that I looked for mentions of Charlie’s Macpherson tartan rompers & couldn’t find any. Of course, it could be that he’s too old for rompers now that he’s started playgroup, but the only reference to Macpherson tartan was the kilt Charlie wears on a very special occasion. I always look forward to a few hours spent in Isabel’s company.

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