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always a pleasure
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds is the ninth novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel is asked to help in the recovery of a very valuable painting (a Poussin) stolen from the collection of old-fashioned philanthropist, Duncan Munrowe. Jamie, Isabel’s husband of one year, and father of their son, Charlie, knows better than to advise against her involvement: he pleads with her to be careful. As a result of her involvement, she encounters a distraught country gentleman, an unpleasant lawyer, a pair of aggressive thugs, a reserved daughter and a disapproving son. Isabel manages to engineer a surprising resolution to the whole affair. Three and three quarter year old Charlie shows an aptitude for mathematics; Isabel gives Eddie some sorely-needed support; and Grace resigns (again!). Along the way, Isabel ponders or discusses: the nature of genius; child prodigies and pushy parents; our responsibility to future generations; the art of judging social cues; insincere compliments and heart-sink friends; dress codes and personal hygiene obligations; arguments about nothing; projectile vomiting; answering the telephone; the criminality of illegal parking; the morals of unearned money; the expiry date of sympathy; when does a reward become a ransom; loyalty to government, country and family; the ownership of leftovers; email expectations; and, of course, clouds. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (the reincarnation of Professor Lettuce being one of those) and Isabel creates some marvelous expressions like trial by cocktail, and romantic sabbatical. There is plenty of gentle philosophy and quite a lot of wisdom. My favourite quotes: “Children understood that adults could become angry – curiously so, and for no apparent reason, just as the weather could change and a smiling day might suddenly frown.” and “’Gaydar can be misleading, you know,’ said Jamie. ‘It needs to be calibrated’” and “You can only blame people for that which they have chosen to do”. Thought-provoking and funny, always a pleasure to read.