The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
Alexander McCall Smith
Reviewed by Sarah Thickett
Little, Brown
Wed, 07/09/2011

Philosopher and Edinburgh resident Isabel Dalhousie is acclimatising to life as a wife-to-be and mother to two-year-old Charlie when her niece, Cat, asks her for a favour. Isabel is introduced to Jane, a fellow philosopher and an Australian, who was adopted at birth and needs Isabel’s help in tracking down her birth parents, who Jane believes were Scottish.

Thus begins the fourth novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s charming Sunday Philosophy Club series. Followers of Dr Dalhousie’s previous exploits will not be disappointed, but neither will newcomers to the series as the mystery at the centre of the novel is intriguing from the outset, drawing us into the cosy world of Isabel’s Edinburgh and its unusual cast of characters. Indeed, it is a pleasant surprise to read a novel that is so character-driven, especially when the characters in question are so three-dimensional.

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is a beautifully written and elegantly thought out piece of fiction; like his protagonist, McCall Smith demonstrates a delightful capacity for ruminating on some of life’s bigger questions. There is also a final narrative twist that propels the plot through the final pages, dispelling any doubts the reader might have about the author’s talents as a writer of plot-driven fiction. Most of all, Isabel’s philosophical musings provide an excellent opportunity to raise all sorts of questions for the reader and encourage a similarly thoughtful state of mind.

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is a book to be savoured, a slim volume to be read slowly and enjoyed at one’s leisure.

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