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The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
Cover of The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
Isabel Dalhousie Series, Book 8
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ISABEL DALHOUSIE - Book 8

Nothing captures the charm of Edinburgh like the bestselling Isabel Dalhousie series of novels featuring the insatiably curious philosopher and woman detective. Whether investigating a case or a problem of philosophy, the indefatigable Isabel Dalhousie, one of fiction's most richly developed amateur detectives, is always ready to pursue the answers to all of life's questions, large and small.

In this latest installment of the beloved Isabel Dalhousie series, our inquisitive heroine helps a new friend discover the identity of her father.

Isabel and her fiancé know who they are and where they come from. But not everybody is so fortunate. Jane Cooper, a visiting Australian philosopher on sabbatical in Edinburgh, has more questions than answers. Adopted at birth, Jane is trying to find her biological father, but all she knows about him is that he was a student in Edinburgh years ago. When she asks for Isabel's help in this seemingly impossible search . . . well, of course Isabel obliges.

But Isabel also manages to find time for her own concerns: her young son, Charlie, already walking and talking; her housekeeper, Grace, whose spiritualist has lately been doubling as a financial advisor; her niece Cat's latest relationship; and the pressing question of when and how Isabel and Jamie should finally get married.

Should the forgotten affairs of youth be left in the past, or can the memories help us understand the present? In her inimitable way, Isabel leads us to a new understanding of the meaning of family.



From the Hardcover edition.



ISABEL DALHOUSIE - Book 8

Nothing captures the charm of Edinburgh like the bestselling Isabel Dalhousie series of novels featuring the insatiably curious philosopher and woman detective. Whether investigating a case or a problem of philosophy, the indefatigable Isabel Dalhousie, one of fiction's most richly developed amateur detectives, is always ready to pursue the answers to all of life's questions, large and small.

In this latest installment of the beloved Isabel Dalhousie series, our inquisitive heroine helps a new friend discover the identity of her father.

Isabel and her fiancé know who they are and where they come from. But not everybody is so fortunate. Jane Cooper, a visiting Australian philosopher on sabbatical in Edinburgh, has more questions than answers. Adopted at birth, Jane is trying to find her biological father, but all she knows about him is that he was a student in Edinburgh years ago. When she asks for Isabel's help in this seemingly impossible search . . . well, of course Isabel obliges.

But Isabel also manages to find time for her own concerns: her young son, Charlie, already walking and talking; her housekeeper, Grace, whose spiritualist has lately been doubling as a financial advisor; her niece Cat's latest relationship; and the pressing question of when and how Isabel and Jamie should finally get married.

Should the forgotten affairs of youth be left in the past, or can the memories help us understand the present? In her inimitable way, Isabel leads us to a new understanding of the meaning of family.



From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    By the time she got back to the house, having been inter­rupted on the way back by bumping into a garrulous neighbour, the morning was already almost over. For Isabel, the watershed was always eleven-thirty; that was the point at which if nothing was achieved, then nothing would be, the point at which one had to think about lunch, now just an hour away.

    Since Charlie had started going to his playgroup, the morn­ings had become even shorter, as he had to be fetched shortly after noon, and it took ten minutes to get him back and another ten minutes to get him changed out of his morning clothes; by this time, he would be covered in finger paint, crumbs, pieces of a curious modelling substance much approved of by the play­group authorities, grains of sand from the sandpit and, very occasionally, what looked like specks of blood. Boys, it seemed to Isabel, were magnets for dirt and detritus, and the only solu­tion, if one were wanted, was frequent changes of clothing. Or one could throw up one's hands and allow them to get dirtier through the day and then hose them down—metaphorically, of course—in the early evening.

    Isabel opted to change Charlie, and so his morning clothes, once abandoned, were replaced with afternoon clothes. She decided that she rather liked the idea of having afternoon clothes, even if one were not a two-year-old. Changing into one's afternoon clothes could become something of a ritual, rather like changing for dinner—which so few people did any more. And the afternoon clothes themselves could be the sub­ject of deliberation and chosen with care; they would be more loose-fitting than one's morning clothes, more autumnal in shade, perhaps—clothes that would reflect the lengthening of shadows and sit well with the subtle change in light that comes after three; russet clothes, comfortable linen, loose-fitting col­lars and sleeves.

    "You thinking?"

    It was Isabel's housekeeper, Grace. She had worked in the house when Isabel's father was still alive, and had been kept on by Isabel. It would have been impossible to ask Grace to leave—even if Isabel had wanted to do so; she came with the house and had naturally assumed that the house could not be run without her. Isabel had felt vaguely apologetic about having a housekeeper—it seemed such an extravagant, privileged thing to do, but a discussion with her friend, Peter Stevenson, had helped.

    "What good would it do if you were to stop that particular item of expenditure?" Peter said. "All it would mean was that Grace would be out of a job. What would it achieve?"

    "But I feel embarrassed," said Isabel. "Somebody of my age doesn't need a housekeeper. People will think I'm lazy."

    Peter was too perceptive to swallow that. "That's not it, is it? What's worrying you is that people will think that you're well-off, which you are. So why not just accept it? You use your money generously—I know that. Carry on like that and forget what you imagine people think about you. It's not an actual sin to have money. The sin exists in using it selfishly, which you don't."

    "Oh well," said Isabel.

    "Exactly."

    Now Grace stood in the doorway of Isabel's workroom, a bucket in hand, on her way to performing the daily chore of washing down the Victorian encaustic-tile floor in the entrance hall. Isabel was not sure that this floor had to be washed every day, but Grace had always done it and would have resisted any suggestion that she change her routine.

    Now Grace's question hung in the air. She often asked Isabel whether she was thinking; it was almost an accusation....

About the Author-
  • Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the beloved bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is also the author of numerous children's books. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served on many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit his website at www.alexandermccallsmith.com.


Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 31, 2011
    You needn’t be a series-long admirer of Isabel Dalhousie to be beguiled by this curious philosopher and casual sleuth. In this eighth installment—with the ruminating Edinburgh heroine steeped in devoted motherhood, impending marriage, and office and family intrigue—it might even help to be a stranger to her more daring exploits; here, No. 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency series phenom McCall Smith has his quirky gumshoe stalking moral intrigue more doggedly than mystery. It’s Isabel’s mission to help a visiting Australian philosopher find her father after her adoptive parents and birth mother die. The task is deceptively easy and never comes close to matching the confounding mysteries of Isabel’s niece’s fickle heart, the wisdom of ratting her out to health officials for a batch of toxic mushrooms, the impermanence of the greatest love of her life, or how to raise her adorable toddler with fiancé Jamie. Isabel believes only the examined life is worth living, and fearlessly so: “she would never accept things as they were. That was what made her do what she did—practice philosophy—and what made her... do battle for understanding, for sympathy, for love; in small ways... that cumulatively made a difference.” It makes Isabel a heroine worth following, even through this more quiet, reflective foray.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2011
    Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie's cases often register low on the crime meter, but this one--the search for a new acquaintance's father--is 100 percent felony-free. It is not, however, free of Isabel's trademark ethical dilemmas. Should she warn her niece Cat that Sinclair, the Adonis who's filling in at her deli, is obviously unsuitable as a romantic partner? Should she invest in West of Scotland Turbines on the advice of her housekeeper's medium? What should she do when Professor Robert Lettuce, who persists on the editorial board of the Review of Applied Ethics, accepts on his own initiative an essay written by his nephew Max? And where did Charlie, the 2-year-old son of Isabel and her fiancé, bassoonist Jamie, pick up the nasty word he was heard using in his playgroup? All these questions, however, take a back seat to Australian philosopher Jane Cooper's request that Isabel help her find the man who impregnated her mother, Clara Scott, while she was still at university. Clara, long dead in a car crash, can be no help, and Isabel's far from certain that the man who took such pains to avoid leaving a paper trail so long ago will want to be part of Jane's life now. Isabel agrees to investigate anyway because it's the right thing to do, and then has to deal with the quest's unexpected complications using exactly the same moral lodestar. The woolliest of Isabel's eight adventures (The Charming Quirks of Others, 2010, etc.) at times seems little more than a catalogue of its heroine's always principled errors and misjudgments. But it shows again, and handsomely, the most lovable feature of Edinburgh: "Everything is…connected somehow."

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2011

    Middle Eastern terrorists who think they're angels plan to blow the entire world sky-high, and their plan hinges on kidnapping an American scientist who possesses a pair of ancient stones that reputedly allow one to talk with God. Only the scientist's wife can save him; she has psychic power over the stones. If you loved the author's The Secret Supper, you'll probably love this, too.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from December 1, 2011
    In Taking Tea, McCall Smith says, I get accused of being a Utopian writer. People say I see the world through rosy spectacles. This criticism might seem best to apply to the Isabel Dalhousie series, of which this novel is the eighth. Isabel is the fortysomething, well-heeled editor of a philosophical review in Edinburgh. Early in the tale, as she's mentally recounting her blessingsa baby beyond the age when she could expect one, a handsome fianc' much younger than she, financial and professional independenceIsabel stops herself, fearing Nemesis. And this is where the Utopian criticism falls apart in the Dalhousie series and in Smith's other works. He focuses on the rose, surely, of well-ordered lives and in his good, striving main characters, but the worm is always on the rose, or crawling nearby (especially in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels). Isabel does, after all, run the Review of Applied Ethics and confronts daunting ethical dilemmas, not just in the philosophical-ethical puzzles of her journal but also as she tries to help people who are caught up in tricky choices, whose unseen consequences can make or break the rest of their lives.This totally absorbing novel has as its primary focus the grip of the past, as Isabel helps a woman given up for adoption find her biological father. Isabel is everything you'd want in a philosopher, but she is also quirky and witty and made more human by the longing she still sometimes feels for a beautiful but bad love in her past. Far from being Utopian, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is filled with both spires and spikes, like Edinburgh itself. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: McCall Smith is remarkably prolific, but the number of his books never seems to saturate his market. His adoring readers will queue up for this one, as they always do.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • Charleston Post and Courier "No matter the philosophical twist [Isabel] puts on her actions, it comes back to doing the right thing. McCall Smith has produced an endearing, intelligent and kindly character, which leads a reader to imagining him as having similarly charming traits, both human and literary."
  • The Boston Globe "Because both Isabel and Jane are philosophers, discussions on the nature of truth also arise--especially when that elusive creature seems to be antithetical to love. In McCall Smith's trademark voice, these conflicts play out in civil conversation, delivered in a naturalistic style that conveys both these women's priorities. . . . Readers get to soak up the cozy atmosphere of this Scottish university town and McCall Smith's gentle good will. . . . Isabel once again proves herself civilized company for cold winter nights."
  • Booklist (starred review) "This totally absorbing novel has as its primary focus the grip of the past, as Isabel helps a woman given up for adoption find her biological father. Isabel is everything you'd want in a philosopher, but she is also quirky and witty and made more human by the longing she still sometimes feels for a beautiful but bad love in her past. Far from being Utopian, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is filled with both spires and spikes, like Edinburgh itself."
  • Publishers Weekly "You needn't be a series-long admirer of Isabel Dalhousie to be beguiled by this curious philosopher and casual sleuth . . . Isabel believes only the examined life is worth living, and fearlessly so . . . It makes [her] a heroine worth following, even through this quiet, more reflective foray."
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer "A look inside the hearts and minds of our friends in Edinburgh . . . A real treat."
  • Las Vegas Review Journal "The well-trod streets and worn stone walls of an ancient, elegant city are in Isabel's very DNA. . . . Gentle, humorous, charming--Alexander McCall Smith invariably takes an unvarnished but kindly snapshot of modern society and the result, every time, is entertaining and enchanting reading about characters you think you know--and wish you did."
  • The Washington Post "A world where humor is gentle, suffering is acknowledged but not foregrounded, and efforts to do good are usually rewarded. It's a wonderful place to visit, even if we don't get to live there."
  • Los Angeles Times "McCall Smith's contemporary cozies have proved that crimes need not be punishable by death to provide a satisfying read . . . A genteel, wisdom-filled entertainment."
  • The New York Times Book Review "Endearing . . . Offers tantalizing glimpses of Edinburgh's complex character and a nice, long look into the beautiful mind of a thinking woman."
  • Chicago Tribune "McCall Smith's talent for dialogue is matched only by his gift for characterization. It's hard to believe that he could make up a character as complex and unique as Isabel. She is by turns fearless, vulnerable, headstrong, and insecure, but always delightful."
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