The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday is the fifth book in McCall’s Isabel Dalhousie Novel series, a collection of light mysteries centered around the daily life of a wealthy Scottish philosopher. Isabel enjoys a successful professional life as the owner and editor of The Review of Applied Ethics. She is engaged in all aspects of the intellectual and cultural life of her native Edinburgh. An avid collector of art, especially by Scottish artists, she frequents art galleries and attends concerts, especially those in which her lover Jamie performs as bassoonist. Her inherited wealth has provided her with considerable financial security as well as the means to sponsor a variety of philanthropic activities.

McCall draws his readers into the mind of his main character via a constant stream of introspective reflections and self-analysis. As a philosopher, Isabel sees issues of motivation, guilt, innocence, and chance in all the aspects of her personal world. Her philosophical training encourages her to examine the motives and ethical implications of even the most everyday matters. A dinner invitation at the beginning of the novel, for example, leads Isabel, wrongly it turns out, to suspect that her hosts only invited her so they could meet Jamie, who is considerably younger than she is. The submission of an article to Isabel’s journal by Christopher Dove, a scholar who had once tried to replace her as editor, generates an elaborate analysis of ethical motivation. Isabel thinks through Dove’s possible reasons for submitting the article and agonizes about her moral obligations to accept the article for publication.

Isabel also worries about the personal choices of her niece Cat, who has had a long succession of men in her life and seems unable to form a long-term commitment. Isabel is concerned that her relationship with Jamie, one of Cat’s former boyfriends, as well as the birth of Charlie may result in a permanent rift between herself and her niece. Much to Isabel’s relief, by the end of the novel, Cat is becoming reconciled to Isabel’s happy life and demonstrates some affection toward her young cousin.

The birth of Isabel’s son Charlie and his growing demands upon her time and emotions have challenged the philosopher to examine her maternal responsibilities in the context of her wider professional and social interests. While she loves her son, Isabel the philosopher reflects almost daily on the choices she makes in balancing Charlie’s needs and her other obligations and in working quality time with Charlie into her other activities.

Most importantly, she mulls over every nuance of her relationship with Jamie and worries that their age difference will inevitably lead to a break-up. She is especially concerned that the responsibilities of their relationship and especially of fatherhood will lead Jamie to resent his loss of freedom. Jamie, on the other hand, seems quite content with his situation. He loves Isabel and enjoys his role as a new father.

Isabel’s feelings of insecurity lead her to take an instant dislike to Nick Smart, a pretentious American composer whom she meets at one of Jamie’s concerts. She is suspicious of Nick’s motivations and jealous of every minute Jamie spends with him. Eventually she learns, much to her relief, that Jamie’s interest in Nick is little more than professional, but not before she has been awkwardly ungracious to Nick. She has unfairly suspected the composer of persuading Jamie to seek an exciting career opportunity in New York, while in fact Nick kindly has been helping Jamie work on a musical composition for Isabel.

Isabel’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances appear again and again in the Isabel Dalhousie Novel series. This installment is no exception. In The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday , Grace, Isabel’s strong-minded housekeeper, now cares for Charlie with an attitude more maternal than servile. Her role is relatively minor compared to those in previous novels. Here the...

(The entire section is 1,643 words.)