I've been told all my life that I think too much, so I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Isabel Dalhousie, a 40-ish spinster, Edinburgh resident, editor of Review of Applied Ethics and the heroine of Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club series of novels. Isabel is, by profession and by personal inclination, a thinker. She thinks about everything, from the moral difficulties caused by chocolate, to economics, to age differences (the old have been young, but the young have not been old, so "[i]t was a bit like discussing a foreign country with somebody who has never been there").
Isabel is easily drawn into others' lives, including those of strangers. When she meets a recent heart transplant patient who tells her about the strange, life-threatening visions he's been having, Isabel becomes involved, researching the theory of cellular memory and investigating the lives of those who might have been her new friend's donor. Ever self-aware, Isabel recognizes that her motives are open to interpretation, acknowledging that "some would call it indecent curiosity. Even nosiness." Isabel is appealing because she's so human. She's in love with Jamie, a musician younger than she who is still in love with Isabel's niece Cat, who is no longer in love with him. Isabel's only romance ended badly and she worries that "men don't like women who think too much." She's well-off, but lonely, reflecting as she makes her way home from a concert that "nothing awaited her at home but the solace of the familiar."McCall Smith is a lovely writer (the dead are described as being "like a cloud of love, against which weather we conduct our lives") and, although his books are often called mysteries, readers not interested in that genre should still enjoy this novel. It's a wonderful addition to the fall reading season.