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The Quiet Side of Passion: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel

Review

The Quiet Side of Passion: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel

Philosopher Isabel Dalhousie’s purpose in life is to grapple with the intricacies of moral dilemmas. She is the founder, publisher and editor of an internationally circulated periodical called Review of Applied Ethics devoted to scholarly dissertations on the human condition of right versus wrong. Her devoted husband, Jamie, often smiles as she pauses mid-sentence to muse on these worldly conundrums. “Mum is thinking,” he tells her two young sons. “It’s what she does.”

Isabel now finds herself happily, but somewhat unexpectedly, the mother of two small, rambunctious boys. The care and tending of Charlie, now in nursery school, was easily juggled with her responsibilities thanks to the help of Grace, her housekeeper, and Jamie, a successful musician with flexible but often erratic hours. But when wee Magnus came along, she found her hands way too full, even though Grace and Jamie pitched in willingly. She undertook the job of working mother as so many women do, but the obligations were piling up, and she felt she was neglecting the most important job of all: raising her children.

"Of all of Alexander McCall Smith’s enchanting characters, Isabel runs neck and neck with Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as a favorite."

Isabel is a generous and kindhearted woman (overly so, some might say) who cannot say no to her niece Cat, who owns a small Edinburgh coffee shop. Cat thinks nothing of calling on Isabel to drop everything to lend a hand when she must leave the shop since her assistant, Eddie, is unreliable on his own. Grace adores the wee lads and spends more of her time with them, letting the housework slide. Isabel’s desk overflows with proofs, manuscripts and submissions.

Jamie and Cat encourage Isabel to hire an au pair to live in the spare bedroom suite to handle the housekeeping. They also reason that a proofreader would take the burden off her hands of the one part of magazine editing she least enjoys. Isabel resists bringing strangers into their home, despite the argument that it will give her more free time with the children, but reluctantly relents and finds two suitable candidates. Will adding them to her household lead Isabel, known for her tendency to intervene when she observes something awry, be a good idea?

Isabel befriends the mother of one of Charlie’s schoolmates, Basil, and the boys become fast friends. Basil's mother discloses information about her illegitimate son’s father that raises Isabel’s misgivings. This leads to a dangerous encounter that entangles Cat’s current love interest. Meanwhile, Antonia, the au pair from Italy, seems more interested in meeting men and dragging them home to her third floor room than tending to her work as a housemaid. When Antonia runs off with Eddie for a weekend tryst, it leaves both Cat and Isabel in a mess at the shop and at home. As ever, Isabel, in her most diplomatic way, is left to figure everything out.

Isabel’s proofreader turns out to be a brilliant graduate student who she suspects is involved in an extramarital affair with her old nemesis, Professor Lettuce. This proves to be the last straw. She does not consider herself a prude, but her ethical standards are challenged in ways that might not be so troubling were they not taking place under her own roof.

In THE QUIET SIDE OF PASSION, we are treated to Isabel’s delightful relationship with Jamie, Charlie, Magnus and their Scottish way of life. Of all of Alexander McCall Smith’s enchanting characters, Isabel runs neck and neck with Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as a favorite. Isabel’s meandering thought processes as she wool-gathers mid-sentence, often mid-thought, to ponder the enormity of the problem at hand has endeared her to me from day one. She directs the reader to consider the myriad nuances of life’s ethical conundrums as she tackles them in her own deft manner.

What a treat Isabel is, and what fun it is to watch her sort it all out. Ah, but to be so canny. 

Reviewed by Roz Shea on August 10, 2018

The Quiet Side of Passion: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: July 31, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0307908968
  • ISBN-13: 9780307908964