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September 25, 2006 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

Alexander McCall Smith certainly knows how to reel in his target audience. What thirty year old female in search of an easy read, is going to bypass McCall’s latest book with its candy floss pink cover and seductive title: Friends, Lovers, Chocolate? Despite being on the right side of thirty, I held high hopes for this novel. Friends? Lovers? Chocolate? I like all of those things, hurrah!

Before you pigeon hole this book to the IQ-lowering chick-lit genre, it is worth knowing Mr McCall-Smith is a professor in Law, has received two special Booker citations, and his novels do not centre around a young single girl’s quest for Mr Perfect.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
is the follow up novel of McCall Smith’s popular The Sunday Philosophy Club. Isabel Dalhousie, quirky intellectual and social philosopher, returns as the leading lady. While working in her niece’s delicatessen, Isabel meets Ian, a recent recipient of a heart transplant. Since the operation, Ian sees visions that do not belong to him, but to his donor. Unable to find a rational explanation, Ian accepts Isabel’s help to discover the meaning of his visions.

Isabel’s amateur sleuthing drives the story and has caused some critics to subscribe the novel as ‘detective fiction’.

But Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is not such a simple tale. The sideline relationships: Isabel’s jealously guarded friendship with a much younger musician, the appearance of a smooth Italian and her housekeeper’s love for a married man, really spark the readers’ interest. It’s these background events that prompt Isabel’s philosophical musings on friendship and love, which counterpoint her own relationships. These minor subplots are rarely resolved. But this only adds a touch of realism to the otherwise transparent and highly conventional ‘mystery’ plot line. The story is told from Isabel’s perspective.

Some readers have expressed agitation in the random wanderings of her stream of consciousness. However, this point of view truly exposes Isabel’s character, whose outward composure hides the continuous spiralling of her philosophical mind. McCall Smith does not portray a particularly loveable cast. Isabel largely resists emotional intimacy and possesses all the snobbery of an upper-class erudite. Her voice blends with the third person narration, so that both are precise, formal and a little too controlled to really evoke a human feel. As a result, I couldn’t help feeling McCall Smith was forgetting his audience and using his university lecturer voice.

Overall, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is calm, poised and neatly constructed. It is a pleasant enough read, but generally lacklustre and severely undernourished the much promised chocolate.

RRP $27.00


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Comments (2)

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  1. Catherine says:

    I would have given the novel a totally different ending, and in fact when I got to the end, I couldn’t believe McCall Smith didn’t see it either. Or maybe that’s the point……I think that when both McLeod boys died, the wrong heart was transplanted into Ian and that’s why he was seeing the face of the first Mrs. McLeods’s male friend.

  2. Another Catherine says:

    I must admit, I found this a tiresome novel. The characterisation in general was admirable, but Isabel comes across as too credulous and superficial to be an editor of an international journal on ethics. Her knowledge may be deep, but fancy musing on about the ethics of chocolate with respect to strength. And fancy an academic not being able to recognise the flaws in her actions – a vague verbal description of a face, such as that given by Ian, is never going to be enough to identify someone and she should have known that. She should have realised that the heart donor could have come from anywhere, and wouldn’t necessarily have been the only early death in the paper. She even had to ask the librarian whether they kept issues of the Scotsman, for crying out loud – had she been a real academic she ought to have known that.

    Because this was all obvious on the way through, I found the ending predictable as well.

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