The Sunday Philosophy Club
First UK edition
|Author||Alexander McCall Smith|
|Series||The Sunday Philosophy Club Series|
|Publisher||Little Brown (UK)
Pantheon Books (US)
|September 28, 2004|
|Followed by||Friends, Lovers, Chocolate|
The Sunday Philosophy Club is the first of the Sunday Philosophy Club series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith, set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and featuring the protagonist Isabel Dalhousie. It was first published in 2004.
Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher in her early forties and lives alone in a large aging house in the south of Edinburgh. Thanks to a large inheritance left to her by her late mother, she is able to work for a nominal fee as the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. Her closest friends are her niece Cat, a young attractive woman who runs a delicatessen; her housekeeper Grace, an outspoken woman with an interest in spiritualism; Cat’s ex-boyfriend Jamie, a bassoonist to whom Isabel has been secretly attracted ever since they met; and Brother Fox, an urban fox who lives in Isabel’s garden.
During a trip to the theatre, Isabel sees a young man fall to his death from the gods. As the young man falls, she catches his eye, and sees an expression of shock of his face, which suggests to her that the police’s verdict of suicide is wrong. She decides to find out what really happened.
The original title of the book was The Crushed Strawberry, named for the colour of Toby’s trousers, but it was changed to The Sunday Philosophy Club after a suggestion by McCall Smith’s editor. The book marks the first literary appearance of the Really Terrible Orchestra, a real-life amateur orchestra co-founded by McCall in 1995.
The book garnered mixed reviews, with many reviewers comparing it unfavourably to McCall Smith’s better-known series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The New York Times sees Isabel as a “(No. 2) Lady Detective Philosopher” (in comparison to the ‘No. 1 Lady Detective’ Precious Ramotswe) and describes her philosophical musings as “less than riveting”; it concludes that the novel is “the literary equivalent of herbal tea and a cozy fire”. BookReporter.com agrees, calling the story “slightly ponderous” and advising that “the tone is a bit daunting for readers who never progressed beyond Philosophy 101 in college”. Likewise, The Times Online calls the novel “airless and exhausting” and adds that “We can only hope that the Sunday Philosophy Club remains indefinitely postponed”.
However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls Isabel “the anti-Precious” and suggests that the novel will “delight McCall Smith's existing fans and win him some new ones”. USA Today's review was also positive, commending Isabel’s penchant for philosophical self-examination and seeing the novel as a “painless introduction to philosophical questions”.
RTÉ’s website agrees that “McCall Smith makes some excellent points about the absence of moral responsibility” but finds that Isabel’s lack of flaws and wealthy status make her difficult to identify with: “If McCall Smith had presented a heroine with more questionable ethics, this might have been a far more interesting story.”