Would you read a book about a benevolent and philanthropic Scottish academic in which very little happens? Well, Dear Reader, I’m recommending that you read The Right Attitude to Rain which is exactly like that.
I love ironic book titles. In particular, I’m attracted to books with titles that seem to infer that the content is so commonplace as to be not worth reading, or which provide a quirky slant on the ordinary, such as The Right Attitude to Rain. Whatever attitude to precipation can be considered right? A short story written about the same characters is entitled The Perils of Morning Coffee. What indeed can these be? That you burn your hand on your polystyrene Starbucks cup? (But, no, no, these characters would never drink Starbucks.)
When you’re in the midst of something, you miss things. When you return after a period of absence, you notice them. This applies to reading as much as to writing. There was a time when every other book I read was a McCall Smith, but, until I started The Right Attitude to Rain a week or so ago, I hadn’t opened any his books for some time, because I felt they were too same-y. However, the minute I started on this novel, the third (out of ten) in The Sunday Philosphy Club series, I was immediately struck anew by the charm of McCall Smith’s distinctive style. As is usual in his work, plot material is thin. Isabel Dalhousie, the philosopher, philosophises. Having inherited wealth from her father, she is free to do this at her abundant leisure. She potters around Edinburgh, reading submissions for the Review of Applied Ethics and indulging in a little academic bickering, viewing art in galleries and taking her coffee at the delicatessan of Cat, her neice. As usual, she has more than warm feelings for Jamie, bassoonist and Cat’s ex-boyfriend, and she entertains some American cousins. No murder (nor any other felony/misdemeanour) is committed – unusual in crime fiction.
McCall Smith’s literary style is unhurried, lingering over apparently inconsequential conversations, everyday events and small disagreements between
characters. He doesn’t do tension or suspense. It all seems as light as air, but it’s not, because Isabel Dalhousie applies philosophical constructs to ordinary happenings. On one level you might believe, as does her American cousin, Mimi, that she over thinks, when she should just get on with it, but, on the other hand, perhaps McCall Smith is taking philosophy off its academic pedestal and applying it to everyday life Isabel’s is a very comfortable life, of course. The fact is that we all would love to be Isabel Dalhousie, endlessly drinking coffee, never having to worry about making a living, or family responsibilities, and therefore having the time and energy to meddle in other people’s affairs.
The Right Attitude to Rain is available from Alexander McCall Smith’s website. I tried in vain to find a link to the publisher’s website; even this author website provides links to Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers. No wonder traditional publishing houses are going under! I borrowed it through Overdrive, as an electronic book. I am therefore virtuous because I was Supporting My Local Library.