I finished Alexander McNall Smith’s mystery novel The Sunday Philosophy Club, and I have mixed feelings. It’s not what I was expecting, it was a lot more philosophy than I was expecting (although there was a mystery at it’s core), and there was no club, or at least, the club never met in the course of the book.
The main character, Isabel, is the editor of a philosophy journal, and as the events of the book proceed she ponders different moral dilemmas with varying levels of success. The ponderings were interesting, as was the mystery surrounding a young man falling to his death from the balcony of an opera house, there just seemed to be something that didn’t ring quite true.
Maybe the problem is that I’m not a philosopher, and it doesn’t seem quite accurate that someone would be pondering such deep thoughts so many times throughout their day. If she was discussing these quandries with other people it would make more sense. This ties in with my difficulties with the title of the book; Isabel is part of a club called the Sunday Philosophy Club, but they never seem to meet because the members are all too busy on Sundays. Isabel seems to be the only one upset by this- which I suppose makes sense, if she can fit philosophical ponderings into her everyday busy life, then why not on Sundays? I guess she just came across as slightly snobby and removed to me, and not completely buyable. Maybe Isabel just wasn’t the dectective to read after Phryne from Murder in Montparnasse.
I also just read Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson. I’m not counting it toward my total as I’m only counting prose rather than graphic novels, but I loved it so much that I have to write about it here.
Carnet de Voyage is a travel journal that Thompson created during his trip to Europe to promote his graphic novel Blankets (one of my favorite books-prose or graphic novel- of all time). In it he expresses the wonder, joy, frustration, and pain that he experienced as a visitor in various countries. I read a review of this book that expressed the opinion that he whined too much, but I simply can’t agree with that. Although he expresses suffering within the pages of this journal, both emotional and phyisical, the illustrations reveal that this could never be the journal of a pessimist. They are beautiful; intricate yet simple, perceptive and penetrating. Each person and place he draws is imbued with a grace that indicates that he has seen them as they are, and that what they are is beautiful. A pessimist’s drawings could be as physically accurate, but they would be darker, not so full of hope and wonder.
I’ve been studying and pondering about charity lately, and it seems to me that this is what I see in his drawings- not just a willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt, but an ingrained tendency to do so. A way of looking at people that assumes the best of them, that sees their inner light even when they may not be going out of their way to show it.
The honesty in his journal makes it more accesible; as I read I identified with his feelings of loneliness in traveling alone, stories of extroverted “brave” travellers just make me feel bad that I’m not that way. And his complaints are real complaints- the physical pain in his hands from drawing, the emotional pain of being far from a ill loved one. The journal is far from a litany of complaints however, in it he captures the joy inherent in playing with children, meeting good people, seeing beautiful sights. He expresses, without struggling for words, the subtle thrill of transitioning from being a stranger in a new place to feeling at home in the world. And that is what I love about this book, that by the end of his journey I can see the beauty of the world, and feel at home.
Current Total: 99
Just Finished: The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
Currently Reading: 100 Malicious Little Mysteries ed. by Asimov, Greenberg, Olander
Yeah, I didn’t find it whiny at all. More honest, than anything. Rather than paint a falsely positive picture, he’ll tell it just as it was, which is the high and low of travelling.