Posts Tagged ‘Alexander McCall Smith’

What WHA can do for youLet us start with the positive, a fantastic little book, a lovely little book.  A joy to read the prolific Alexander McCall Smith‘s What Auden can do for you (Princeton UP, 2013), which looks and feels good too, as one would expect from an American university press publication.  Were I not into Auden already (albeit as a late adopter) I’m pretty sure I would be so moved after reading this brief account of the man and his work, which also lets us in to how McCall Smith, the writer prince of gracious, decent living, first got acquainted and drawn in.

A selection from the chapter headings practically tells the tale: Love illuminates again; Choice and quest; The poet as voyager; Politics and sex; A vision of agape; And then there is nature.  To save you looking agape up (as would I), McCall Smith describes it as “that disinterested love of others that has played so important a part in traditional Christian teaching,” while Wikipedia has it as “selfless, charitable, non-erotic (brotherly) love, spiritual love, love of the soul“, though there are more specific Christian meanings.  He invokes it thus:

I then experienced a feeling of extraordinary calm, of something that must have been joy.  It was fleeting, lasting only a minute or two, but it was unmistakable.  […]  … we know that for a short time we have seen something about the world that we do not normally see.  I suddenly understood that I loved the people present in that small enclosure.  I had come from Edinburgh feeling that the evening would be a chore, and now I stood on the grass and realised how grudging, how churlish that attitude had been.
“A summer night,” I said to myself.

A summer night is a poem that Auden wrote in 1933, the generation of which McCall Smith goes on to talk about in some detail; this is typical of McCall Smith’s approach.  He is thankful for the illumination.  His final chapter is Auden as a guide to living.  More an aid to living, really, but here’s the penultimate paragraph:

On his [Auden’s] memorial in Westminster Abbey are inscribed the words In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise.  I remember when I first read that these lines had been chosen for that memorial, I was not sure I understood why.  Now I understand.

Book of lost thingsThose words encapsulate one of the basic tenets of ‘happiness’ self-help texts.  Richard Wiseman, for instance, in his 59 seconds: think a little change a lot (2009), one of the more grounded examples of the species, cites the results of scientific experiments to justify their efficacy beyond folk wisdom.

Another guide to life in book form is offered in John Connolly‘s The book of lost things (2006).  This is one of those novels that reveal that they are the story of how the novel itself came to be written.  Though it is not a children’s book – and author Connolly avers this in the 150 pages of appendices after the novel has finished – it reads like one, in that everything is painstakingly spelt out in simple, unspectacular prose.  Anyway, the ‘author’ gets to be a famous writer, and children travel to meet him:

… he would talk to them of stories and books, and explain to them how stories wanted to be told and books wanted to be read, and how everything that they ever needed to know about life and the land of which he wrote, or about any land or realm that they could imagine, was contained in books.

Everything they ever needed to know?  Even as an ex-librarian for whom the flame still burns I’d say that’s pushing it a bit.  Which is a shame, because that riff about stories wanting to be told is nicely set up early on, with the old books on the shelves in young David’s new room:

David was aware of a change in the room as soon as he began to fill the empty spaces on the shelves, the newer books looking and sounding uneasy beside these other works from the past.  Their appearance was intimidating, and they spoke to David in dusty, rumbling tones.  the older books were bound in calfskin and leather …

Grimm’s Fairy Tales prominent, as read to him by his dead mother.  Promising Neil Gaiman territory, one hopes.  The situation is that his father re-marries, which is bad enough, and then a baby comes along.  Not happy.  It’s the 1940s, father is working somewhere that might, interestingly, be Bletchley Park, though that strand is just allowed to fade away.  German bomber crashes on his secret garden and he’s catapulted into quest mode in a land of heavily mucked about fairy stories and folk tales.  The thing is, you know he’s going to reconcile to his new family situation, so the value of the book is down to how well the mucking about with traditional myths and stories is done.  Nothing wrong with the concept, but in practice here it is relentless and repetitive.  There’s a lot of routine slaughtering, some unexceptional trickery and we end with a not unusual bit of wisdom (ie. be careful what you wish for).

There is one episode that promises humour to leaven the ongoing slog – Snow White as bloated capitalist slave-driver and the Dwarves as ineffectual class warriors complaining of David’s size-ism – but it’s a leaden, arch failure.  Shame.  There’s a certain profundity – not least in the dire realism he sometimes imparts to our young hero – in the character of The Crooked Man, the ultimate bad guy who has been messing with David all along (that’s him on the cover) but there’s a confusion with him that’s never really resolved.  Especially when he is finally overcome.  There has to be more to the Trickster archetype than being a con-man, surely?  The book of lost things lost me very early on, and I only laboured to the end out of loyalty to Judy, in the Book Group, who I knew had finished it.  We were in the minority.  With Book Groups you win some, you lose some.


Simic Charles Simic was new to me when I was given his Looking for trouble: selected early and more recent poems (Faber, 1997) as a present a few years ago.  Two questions immediately arise: the presence or not of Elvis Presley (did you not hear that echo?) in a book with a title like that (ans: not directly); and what happened in between – pomp or circumstance?  Seems, in the latter case, that unlike Waiting for the sun – The Doors’ mid-career nadir –  he was winning prizes.

I’ve only just got round to spending significant time with it (sorry) and it’s been good to make the acquaintance.  The puff on the back cover claims “there is no poet quite like him, and the attempt to fix labels always ends in frustration.”  I’d say he’s all over the place … in the best possible sense of the term.  The majority of the poems in Looking for trouble do not trouble you to turn the page.  He’s concise but kaleidoscopic, capturing moments and glimpses, or, broadening the canvas, doing what good urban photographers do.  He has a comic eye, but, quoting again from the back cover, Seamus Heaney puts it far better than I could: “His metamorphoses and mise-en-scène are always subject to the g-factor of human suffering.”  You find the word surrealistic often applied to Simic’s work, but, Heaney says, that misses “a specific gravity in his imagination that manages to avoid the surrealist penalty of weightlessness.”  How about that? – a poet even when he does lit-crit!  He concludes: “The magic dance is being kept up to keep calamity at bay.”

Born 1938 in what is now Serbia, he had experienced living under Nazi occupation and displacement before his family emigrated to the US in the early ’50s; the ghost of Europe is still there, but he’s an American poet.  I can’t say I get everything here, but that’s par for the course.  By far the longest piece – 12 pages, but most of it short two liners with a lot of spaces in between – seems to be among other things, about the challenge of the blank page.  I particularly liked Bestiary for the fingers of my right hand even before I’d read it.  Just a couple of openings to tempt you:

Club Midnight
Are you the sole owner of a seedy nightclub?
Are you its sole customer, sole bartender,
Sole waiter prowling around the empty tables?[…]

Dostoyevsky, Fu Manchu and Miss Emily Dickinson show up in that one.  Then there’s

The street ventriloquist
The bearded old man on the corner,
The one drinking out of a brown paper bag,
The one who declares himself
The world’s greatest ventriloquist,
We are all his puppets, he says
When he chooses to say anything.

Music Maestro, please
Vmarch AortasVaultage AprEarly

CC1 Steve Barnes PSP

Concrete Cowboys at York House. Photo (c) Steve Barnes from FB event page, posterized in PSP.

Quick before they’re gone.  Two Vaultages, an Aortas and another York House extravaganza in the shape of StonyBreakdown!3 since the last blog.  And I can even shoehorn the Living Archive’s film compilation MK through the lens into this section too if I try hard enough.

Fortnightly open mic The Vaultage has developed nicely into a fine night out.  Good job Pat and Lois.  The fragrant Naomi Rose (that’s her on the first Vaultage poster) introduced Starlings*, a fab new song, at Aortas.  Commemorating, among other things, the recent glorious local murmuration, it sounded as good as I’d remembered it at the most recent Vaultage, which was also graced with a two-man reprise of material from the recent S.S.Shanty from the fine voices of Tim Hague and Andy Powell.  The latter also featuring some avant-garde banjo with The Concrete Cowboys at the aforementioned StonyBreakdown.  Love that band, even though no sight or sound of You aint going nowhere (usually announced as their theme song), my favourite singalong this side of Sunny afternoon.  Other fine sets from Valerie Vale & Her Aylesbury Aylevators, and the Band of Brothers, with a committed solo spot from The Lost Jockey (a cool Magritte reference, art lovers).  Back at Aortas, guitaricide committed on Dylan’s With God on our side (for once I wish that hadn’t rhymed), but also a nice reminder of what a lovely song Paul Simon’s America is.  MC Dan Plews’s own songs as immaculate as ever.

MK through the lensAnd so to Roger Kitchen’s MK through the lens, screened at Stony’s Scala film club, a compilation of material ranging from amateur footage on pre-MK whackiness in Wolverton to professionally shot newsreel, documentary and DevCorp propaganda films – Hey, the Red Balloon ad! – in preparation for Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday next year.  We’ve come a long way.  Some fascinating clips of new estates emerging out of the mud like something out of a science fiction film.  Corny maybe, but having the Tom Robinson Band’s 2-4-6-8 Motorway as soundtrack to the construction of the M1 hit the spot nicely.  And shame film was so expensive back then, or we might have had more of the last journey – steam hauled! – of Newport Nobby (some of the track is now a Redway).  Intriguing footage, too, of a local ’80s band (forgotten the name) making a video – availing themselves of the original bulkier featured central marble seating – in the shopping centre.  Hi Caz!  Interesting hair.

 *The title of this week’s blog is a line from Naomi’s Starlings.  I’m wondering if that’s a nod and a wink to that Joni Mitchell song about us being Stardust. Which we are. Or as Carl Sagan put it, and which I’m more comfortable with, star stuff.



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Mystery manSunday_Philosophy_Club

The opening titles of two eccentric crime fiction series that I’d started reading in mid-series; not that they need to be read in sequence, but it can be satisfying if you do.

Apart from being more or less contemporary, inhabiting territory on the fringes of the mainstream genre, being set in the UK but not in England and the fact that I’ve just read them one after the other, there’s not a lot they have in common.  The humour of Alexander McCall Smith‘s The Sunday Philosophy Club (2004) is whimsical – there are no actual meetings of the Sunday Philosophical Club in the book, for example – while the author previously known as Colin Bateman‘s Mystery Man (2009) trades in sharp wit and deadpan belly laughs.  One has the greatest respect for a poet – Auden, or WHA as he’s affectionately referred to  – while the other doesn’t have much time any of ’em: “… they’re supposed to be a randy bunch, aren’t they? And they’ve so much time on their hands. Poems, I mean, you can knock them out in an hour.”  These are traits that carry through both series.  Here’s probably the one passage you might have trouble placing, concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary (thought I’d better spell that out):

She was intrigued to see devout Catholics cross themselves at the mention of the BVM – and she liked the acronym BVM itself, which made Mary sound so reassuringly modern and competent, like a CEO or an ICBM, or even a BMW.

That’s actually Isabel Dalhousie, Alexander McCall Smith‘s heroine, who is mostly full of propriety but laced with a redeeming quirkiness and a moral imagination that drives the inquisitiveness that makes her – she gets involved in things – an accidental amateur sleuth.  Bateman‘s anti-hero is the owner of the fictional No Alibis crime bookshop – a man with no name – who operates as a private investigator as a sideline, almost a hobby.  Mystery Man tells how this came about (the private investigator next door stopped answering his door and returning phone calls; why becomes part of the plot).

The Sunday Philosophy Club gives us Isabel’s back story – how she was drawn to philosophy and became the editor of the Review of applied ethics, and the nature of her single status – a significant but failed relationship with one of her lecturers that lasted a lot longer than uni.  What surprised me is that her niece, Cat, in this opening book in the series, has already dumped beau Jamie, who is to grow in significance as the novel sequence unfolds.  The tone is set from the start, whereas Mystery Man‘s main man in his opening episode is a bit of a scattergun – if still utterly Batemanesque – experiment.  All the later characteristics are there – the hypochondria, the Twix and diet coke diet, crime fiction bookshop survival, morbid fear of the countryside, und so weiter – but it’s more finely honed in the later books.  His liaison with girlfriend/reluctantly acknowledged partner-in-crimefighting is gleefully introduced here.

Isabel lives in an Edinburgh that is not Ian Rankin’s Rebus’s turf:

Edinburgh, it was said, was built on hypocrisy. It was the city of Hume, the home of the Scottish Enlightenment, but then what had happened? Petty Calvinism had flourished in the nineteenth century and the light had gone elsewhere … And Edinburgh had become synonymous with respectability, and with doing things in the way in which they had always been done. Respectability was such an effort, though, and there were bars and clubs where people might go …

not that she would go to them too often (if at all), while the bookseller-with-no name abides in what we can still just about call post-Troubles Belfast:

This city has changed so much. It used to be divided, now it’s divided into quarters. War zone to gentrification. T.B.Sheets to continental quilts.

And in that T.B.Sheets reference – it has to be a nod to Belfast Boy Van Morrison, even if his song of that title is set in Ladbroke Grove – we see another major difference between the two.  Isabel Dalhousie does not play no rock and roll; some of the serious composers she cites could be fictional for all I know.  Indeed she – and presumably McCall Smith – are a bit sniffy about moral decline and the ’60s and ’70s altogether.  Bateman, on the other hand, pulls off an Agatha Christie-style unmasking of the murderer, by way of a PowerPoint presentation to the assembled interested parties with a soundtrack that includes Talking Heads’ Psychokiller and Elvis Costello’s Watching the detectives.

I’m happy in both their companies, depending on mood.  Isabel’s exploits are entertainingly accompanied by a pretty much stream of consciousness (with no hint of the sub-conscious) of a cultured moral philosopher (and the ethics of pretty much everything) cut with the crossword she’s doing and concerned quality soap opera.  She’s as decent a human being and inventive a sleuth as McCall Smith‘s other great creation – Precious Ramotswe, owner of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – with an intellectual but broad cultural varnish.  Among some of the people who get a mention in The Sunday Philosophy Club are: the aforementioned Auden, Wilhelm Reich, Max and Morris (the very first comic book characters), philosophers Hume and Kant (she’s not a great fan), Jekyll & Hyde, Oor Wullie and his friends Soapy Soutar and Fat Boab (from a Scottish children’s comic), painters Hockney, Hopper and Jack Vettriano, Stanley Spencer, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol (she’s not keen on those last two), and writers Graham Greene, Solzhenitsyn, Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt.   I had fun, but don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Bateman‘s proprietor of No Alibis is relentless in other ways, “… come hell or high water. And with my luck, it would be both.”  The publisher who sets the big case he’s working on in Mystery Man rolling is a publisher, “a producer of decaffeinated coffee table books masquerading as a beleaguered champion of culture.”  In due reverence to the crime genre that earns his keep, he assigns a title to each extra-curricular problem he works on.   The origins of ‘The case of the Dancing Jews’ are back in The Holocaust and it’s quite a story, but really, with both authors, the crime plotting is almost incidental to the fun, the joy in reading, to be had.

[I’m finding it impossible not to quote a piece of graffiti from Mystery Man, one of series of potentially slanderous slogans dotted around Belfast, a minor case that is solved early on in the book but which somehow weaves its way back into the whole shebang.  Well it made me laugh: “Rev. Derek Coates does not believe in transubstantiation.”]

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SteppenwolfI first read Hermann Hesse‘s Steppenwolf (1927; translated 1929/63) in 1969.  In an Author’s Note written in 1961 he suggests I shouldn’t have:

…of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other […] Partly, but only partly, this may occur so frequently by reason of the fact that this book, written when I was fifty years old, and dealing, as it does with the problems of that age, often fell into the hands of very young readers.

Yeah, well – we were so much older then, we’re younger than that now.  Steppenwolf was one of those books in the ’60s, post-Beat hip.  There was even a band called themselves Steppenwolf after it, though their main claim to fame, the stodgy Born to be wild, as featured in zeitgeist movie Easy Rider, rather misses the point.  The thing then was that what happens to the protagonist at the end of the book, in the Magic Theatre, is kinda trippy – psychedelic literature from Germany between the wars no less – and it still is.  But there’s a whole lot more to it than that.  I’ve been surprised this time around by its power.

Now, I’m not going to spend too much time even trying to explain what is going on in the book; not that I’m that sure about it anyway (though don’t let that put you off).  You have the wolf and man, the dichotomy of animal flesh and human mind (and/or soul, or spirit), and there’s a critique of that dualist approach to psychology, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that.  Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf, whose testimony forms most of the book, is also a loner, a lone wolf existing in the arid steppes of bourgeois society, an intellectual whose asceticism has led to his painting himself into a corner where suicide seems a logical option.  A smug, painlessly comfortable bust of Goethe, one of his heroes, contributes to his losing it at a dinner party, leading to a sequence of events that cause him to reconsider his life and priorities, key components of which are the process of learning to dance in preparation for a Grand Ball while enjoying the company of good-looking women, to embrace life and, in passing, ‘get’ jazz.  The Ball reaches its climax in the corridors in the bowels of the Magic Theatre, where each door opens to a fresh world of experience.

Behind one door, for example, he is returned to his youth and the precious moments of first love where he’d faltered and is now blissfully  allowed to act differently and change what he never gained.  Behind another he partakes of the ‘Great Automobile Hunt’ – what now reads like an epic and bloody shoot-em-up game taking in brutal roadside ambush and general mayhem.  That was one episode took me by surprise, that I had no recall of at all.  Another was the appearance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (“the most beloved and the most exalted picture that my inner life contained“) who gives Haller a hard time and then raps – yes RAPS:

Mozart laughed aloud when he saw my long face.  He turned a somersault in the air for laughter’s sake and played trills with his heels.  At the same time he shouted at me: ‘Hey, my young man, you are biting your tongue, man, with a gripe in your lung, man?  You think of your readers, those carrion feeders, and all your typesetters, those wretched abettors, and sabre-whetters.  You dragon, you make me laugh till I shake me and burst the stitches of my breeches.  O heart of a gull, with printer’s ink dull, and soul-sorrow-full.  A candle I’ll leave you, if that’ll relieve you.  Betittled, betattled, spectacled and shackled, and pitifully snagged and by the tail wagged, and shilly and shally no more shall you dally.  For the devil, I pray, will bear you away and slice you and spice you till that shall suffice you for your writings and rotten plagiarizings ill-gotten.’

When Harry complains about gallows humour Mozart tells him all humour is gallows humour.  Mozart turns on the radio – “the last victorious weapon in the war of extermination against art” says Harry – for a bit of Handel:

At once, to my indescribable astonishment and horror, the devilish metal funnel spat out, without more ado, its mixture of bronchial slime and chewed rubber; the noise that possessors of gramophones and radio sets are prevailed upon to call music.  And behind the slime and the croaking there was, sure enough, like an old master behind a layer of dirt, the noble outline of that divine music.

Mozart tells him, after explaining, among other things the penetration of radio to places the music has never reached before (and remember it’s 1920s audio he’s dealing with here):

Listen, then, you poor thing.  Listen well.  You have need of it.  And now you hear not only a Handel who, disfigured by radio, is, all the same,in this most ghastly of disguises still divine; you hear as well and you observe, most worthy sir, a most admirable symbol of all life.  When you listen to radio you are a witness of the everlasting war between idea and appearance, between time and eternity, between the human and the divine.

Between the Ideal, populated by the Immortals, and … real life, no less.  Don’t lose your awareness, but loosen up, laugh a bit about it all, is Wolfgang’s advice:  “Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.”  Harry’s trip doesn’t quite end here, but I will.  Except to mention some interesting musings of Harry’s as he gets around to loving jazz.  And to say that, You know those big lists of Great Books of the twentieth century or whatever other appropriate category? – well I reckon Hermann Hesse‘s Steppenwolf warrants a place on ’em and, despite all those to-be-read piles and lists, I’ll probably be returning there again soon.

Makkai - The borrowerThe borrower

The cover of the large, C-format, paperback edition of Rebecca Makkai‘s ambitious novel The borrower (Heinemann, 2011) that I read was artistically rendered to take on the typical wear and tear you find on the kind of well-read library book that it seeks to praise.  I think it’s a shame that the idea hasn’t been continued with subsequent paperback editions; they lose something from it.  I only discovered this neat deception when I looked to download the image for the purposes of this blog and when I pointed it out to other members of the Book Group I’m a member of it took them by surprise too.  It was an interesting discussion, people taking different things to like about the book; some weren’t convinced by the librarian but liked the kid, and vice versa.  But I jump ahead of myself.

OK – basic plot.  Small town Children’s Library in Hannibal (not that Hannibal), Missouri.  Children’s literature is cleverly referred to or inferred throughout, not least, of course, with the book’s title.  26-year old Children’s Librarian Lucy with a Russian parents back story that kicks in as the action progresses and 10-year old voracious book-lover Ian.  Classic librarian’s dilemma: his mum complains about what he’s reading – “What Ian really needs right now are books with the breath of God in them.”  Lucy is concerned about the influence of Pastor Bob and his anti-gay Glad Heart program (Ian showing all the signs, worries his mother) pushing delicate souls towards manly pursuits.  Events transpire for them to go on a Thelma and Louise road trip, driving from Missouri to the Canadian border via Chicago.  He’s clever, strings her along on the adventure; she starts off thinking she’s saving him but is digging a deeper legal hole for herself the longer it goes on; there are lots of nice incidentals and social commentary along the way but some of what goes on doesn’t completely convince.  It all ends wonderfully, though.   Anti-climactically, beautifully, with the bonus of a deliciously executed prank leaving an open-ended coda.  I’m not sure what got us to it is up to the same mark, which is a shame – I might have faltered were it not a Book group book – but I’m certainly glad I saw it through to the end.

As well as the human story The borrower champions the importance of books, reading and libraries in people’s lives.  And it also sweetly plays with the novel form and the way libraries are organised.  ‘If a Book Lacked an Epilogue, Ian Would Frequently Offer His Own’ is the chapter head of the epilogue and on the last page she acknowledges some people’s reading habits with “Here are some hopeful last words for the peekers-ahead … who couldn’t help but read the last sentences first.”  Near the end Lucy ponders:

How do I catalogue it all? What sticker do I put on the spine? Ian once suggested that in addition to the mystery stickers and the sci-fi and the animal ones, there should be specials tickers for books with happy endings, books with sad endings […] But what warning would I affix to the marvellous and perplexing tale of Ian Drake? A little blue sticker with a question mark, maybe. Crossed fingers. A penny in a fountain.

This is an intriguing and loving book.  She believes “that books can save you” and the book is its own testimony.  Amen to that.  But can the pedant forgive the poetic licensee?  “Before this all began,” she says – in italics – in the Prologue (“Ian Was Never Happy Unless There Was a Prologue“) that

… one day I’d arrange my books by main character, down through the alphabet. I realize now where I’d be: Hull, snug between Huck and Humbert, But really I should file it under Drake, for Ian, for the boy I stole …

That’s actually Huck Finn, ma’am.  Oh, all right.

Careful use of complimentsThe careful use of compliments

The careful use of compliments (2007) is the fourth out of – so far – nine books in the prolific Alexander McCall Smith‘s Isabel Dalhousie sequence of (sort of) crime novels.  I wanted to get a taste because I’ve just ‘discovered’ W.H.Auden and McCall Smith has recently published a book on him, the reviews of which mentioned Isabel’s fond habit of quoting him.

I like her, and, though they inhabit very different Edinburghs, I suspect Ian Rankin’s John Rebus would come round to her refined feistiness once he’d got past her house door number being in Roman numerals and use of words like agape, which I had to look up.  (To be fair, that was part of an internal monologue – unconditional love, by the way, from the Greek but appropriated by Christian theologians).  As the editor of a small academic journal – crucially for the ongoing dialogue with herself and others it’s the Review of Applied Ethics – and with no financial worries due to inherited wealth, she can afford the indulgences of pondering life’s little dilemmas and nuances philosophically.  This can be mostly charming though occasionally tedious, but satisfying enough to make me think I’ll start the sequence at the beginning.

There’s not much of a crime in The careful use of compliments.  What there is concerns the authenticity of a painting by a Scottish artist, which does develop into a neat plot involving a visit to Jura, which itself allows some thinking about of George Orwell writing 1984 there.  Indeed, a lot of the time there is more suspense involved in whether Isabel will succeed in re-building her relationship with her niece after she’s fallen in love and had a baby with one of said niece’s romantic rejects but it’s these little nuances – she still resents it – entice you in.

Anyway, Isabel rues the fact that there are no public statues of dentists, who should be honoured because they tackle and relieve pain head on – she’s that kind of gal.   So, when the academic who has led the putsch against her editorship says he’s coming to Edinburgh to discuss the changeover, she wonders whether to meet him at the station, and her reasoning process is pure Auden:

Her natural goodness dictated that she should offer to be there; but her humanity, which, after all, was not restricted to kindness and sympathy – qualities of humanity surely can be bad, because that is what humanity is like – that same humanity now prompted her to be unhelpful.

Her overcoming of his challenge for the control of the journal is both appalling from one point of view but delightful from another (hers and ours!).  The theory and practise of moral philosophy is nicely toyed with nicely, and she’s good company:

… that was the trouble with most people, when it came down to it; there were very few who enjoyed flights of fantasy, and to have that sort of mind – one which appreciated dry wit and understood the absurd – left one in a shrinking minority.

Without giving anything away, the book concludes, “There is a sea of love.”  And why not, once in a while?


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