The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

October 19, 2010

Calmly and elegantly, like a Zeppelin, you rise above them.

They both laughed. 'How did we get to this?' asked Isabel.

'By thinking,' said Jamie, leaning forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek. He loved the way Isabel's mind could pursue such odd lines of enquiry. She was unpredictable; she was clever. He loved her so much for both of these qualities, and for being who she was. I could not love anybody else, he thought, not after her, not after Isabel. Really? enquired an unsettling internal voice. Are you sure about that?
Oh, no! Let's not go there! As I've said before, I read series mysteries (are these books mysteries? I can never decide) because I want to visit the characters again, and find out what's been happening to them.

What happens to them in The Charming Quirks of Others is that Isabel fears that Jamie is becoming involved with a fellow musician, and she is asked to look discreetly into an anonymous letter and the (possibly tainted) backgrounds of three candidates for the headship of a private school. For me, Jamie isn't an entirely successful character; physically beautiful, kind, intelligent, and a man who cooks, he's a dreamboat but he sometimes seems a little flat.  Isabel's investigation (and the book itself) becomes most interesting when we find out that Isabel is responding to people and events, again and again, in the same way (to say more might spoil things); she acknowledges this, but it doesn't change.

I took great pleasure in curling up with this book, so 'thank you and thank you and you,' as the man with the thorny rosebush might say.  You could think that someone who is always good or trying to be good (and we've all known people like that, right?) would be a pill, but Isabel isn't. She just makes me want to sit up a little straighter.

She looked up at the ceiling. One of the drawbacks to being a philosopsher was that you became aware of what you should not do, and this took fro you so many opportunities to savour the human pleasure of revenge or greed or sheer fantasising. Well might St. Augustine have said Make me chaste, but not just yet; that was how Isabel felt. And yet she could not; she could not let herself experience the pleasure of getting her own back on Dove, because it was, quite simply, always wrong to get one's own back on another. It was her duty to forgive Dove and if one were to be really serious about it, to go further than that and to love him. Hate the acts of Doves, not the Doves themselves, she muttered...
I like the thoughtfulness of these books, and the gentleness.  They are serious and sweet, and there's just something warm about the characters, even with their dilemmas.   I love the way AMS portrays the places that figure so importantly in his books:

She was on the point of telling Jamie this when he leaned across the table and said to her, very slowly and clearly, 'Isabel, listen to me. This is Edinburgh. Edinburgh. We haven't got any murderers here. We just haven't. At the most, people have little failings. That small.' He held up a hand, with barely a chunk of light between his thumb and forefinger. 'Mere quirks. So think of something else. Please.'

She laughed. She knew that he did not mean this:  Edinburgh was the same as anywhere else, and had the same range of people as other places did:  the good, the bad, the morally indifferent. They had their quirks, of course:  Jamie was right about that. But even their quirks were charming -- at least in the eyes of a lover, who would forgive her city anything.

They decided to walk back from the Cafe St. Honore because the night was a fine one and even at ten there was still light in the sky. Being as far north as Moscow, and only three degrees south of St. Petersburg, Edinburgh had summer nights almost as white as those of Russia. Soon the dying day would slip into half-darkness  and that curious Scottish half-light, the gloaming would mantle the city; for now, though, every architectural detail, every branch moving gently in the breeze from the west, was clearly visible.


lyn said...

I love this series too. I agree with you about Jamie, I don't really see the relationship lasting. I always find myself questioning my own actions & thoughts when reading about Isabel. She's such a thoughtful character.

David Nolan (dsc73277) said...

"I like the thoughtfulness of these books, and the gentleness. They are serious and sweet, and there's just something warm about the characters, even with their dilemmas." My sentiments entirely.

With regard to Jamie being "a little flat", this may be because he is intended as a foil to Isabel, rather like Watson to Holmes. I think their relationship stands a good chance precisely because Jamie does not agonise over things to the same extent as she does.

Thank you for visiting!

Card Catalog

#6barsets #emma200th #maisie #PalliserParty #Woolfalong A.A. Milne Agatha Christie Alexander McCall Smith Allison Pearson Amy Lowell Angela Thirkell Ann Bridge Anne Perry Anthony Trollope Anticipation Armchair Travels Art Audiobooks Barbara Pym Biography Bloomsbury Bookish things Boston British Library Crime Classics Cambridge Cathleen Schine Charles Dickens Coffee-table books Cookbooks D.E. Stevenson Deborah Crombie Donna Leon Dorothy L. Sayers Dorothy Whipple E.H. Young E.M. Delafield E.M. Forster Edith Wharton Elinor Lipman Elizabeth Gaskell Elizabeth Jenkins Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth von Arnim Ellizabeth Taylor Emily Dickinson Ernest Hemingway Eudora Welty Fiction Films Food from Books Food Writing Found on a Blog George Eliot Georgette Heyer Helen Ashton Henry James History Homes and Haunts Ideas Imogen Robertson Isabella Stewart Gardner Jacqueline Winspear Jane Austen Joanna Trollope Julia Child Language Laurie Colwin Letters Library Books Literature Louise Andrews Kent Louise Penny M.F.K. Fisher Madame Bovary Madame de Sévigné Madame de Staël Margaret Kennedy Margery Sharp Martha Grimes Mary Shelley Memoirs Miss Read My Year with Edith Mysteries Nathaniel Hawthorne Nonfiction Nook Only Connect P.D. James Paris in July Persephones Plays Poetry Pride and Prejudice 200 Queen Victoria R.I.P. Reading England 2015 Ruth Rendell Sarah Orne Jewett Short Stories Switzerland Sylvia Beach Team Middlemarch The 1924 Club The Brontës the Carlyles The Classics Club Thomas Hardy Virago Virginia Woolf Washington Irving Willa Cather William Maxwell Winifred Peck Winifred Watson