Thursday, January 24, 2008

Isabel Dalhousie on Texans and their Guns

Isabel Dalhousie is a philosophical sleuth. She is the creation of Alexander McCall Smith; who also created Precious Ramotswe, of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series. I have read the three Isabel Dalhousie books, and really enjoyed them.

I tried to get into the Ladies' Detective Agency stories, with no success. Perhaps I should give it another try; they seem to be very popular. But there is no shortage of books in the world that I really enjoy. Sometimes I try to challenge myself to read things with less interest to me, but I always have a good long list of those waiting for me, so it could be that I will never get to Precious Ramotswe.

Returning to Isabel Dalhousie, she is a Scottish lady, independently wealthy. By education she is a philosopher, by profession she edits The Review of Applied Ethics journal. These books are interesting to me because Ms Dalhousie enjoys Scottish poetry, orchestra music and art. I always come away from one of these books feeling like I have learned something and there is always something in the books I end up doing a little further research on. (Isn't that a great thing about the internet? Everything from William McTaggart to Arthur Waley at your fingertips.)

The other interesting thing about these books is that as McCall Smith walks you through the storyline, Ms Dalhousie is always thinking. Any given situation may trigger an episode of philosophical musing on her part. So the reader is constantly called upon to examine his or her own stand on any number of ethical situation. Makes for some good practice at applying ones' belief system to everyday situations.

Not all of Ms Dalhousie's musings take much work to think through however. In the following paragraph, from the third book in the series, The Right Attitude to Rain, she overhears a conversation in which a woman from Texas is telling about a woman murdering someone.
Why, Isabel wondered, had she shot him? And who was she? Women shot abusive husbands, in desperation, or husbands who went off with other women, in fury. It seemed unlikely, but she was talking about Texas, where guns, shamefully, were part of the culture. And that was an absurdity, she thought, and such a blot on American society, this little-boy fascination with guns and toughness. Something had gone so badly wrong. (p. 118)
I thought this stereotype of America and specifically Texas was pretty funny. I'm curious to know whether this is McCall Smith's opinion or only the opinion of his character, Isabel Dalhousie.

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