Sunday, April 17, 2016

In which I review "The Novel Habits of Happiness"

image credit: amazon

The title first caught my eye: The Novel Habits of Happiness. What are the new habits of happiness? I'd come to the conclusion that, for the most part, what makes us truly happy has stayed virtually the same: social connection, a feeling of being needed or of worth, being able to love and be loved in return. Sure and there are novel ways of achieving those things, I suppose. Also, I smiled, thinking that it could be a pun, and that the person's novel habits of happiness are indeed derived from novels, books. AND the book is by Alexander McCall Smith, whose modern adaptation of Emma I liked and reviewed here.

It was only 257 pages, it was shelved under "mystery," and it promised a series of reads if I enjoyed this book. So, thinking I had nothing to lose, I took the plunge. Yes, you might be saying, but what did you think of it??? This is, after all, a review. Well, touche, yes this is a review. And now that you know the why and wherefore, here are some thoughts I had on The Novel Habits of Happiness.

The book is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the heroine is an early 30s philosopher named Isabel Dalhousie. Throughout the novel, Isabel references philosophers and goes off onto philosophical questions and ideas throughout her day. I found this interesting, as sometimes I find myself thinking of the deeper morals and implications of things, and these thoughts could be set off by any number of things. If you're looking for a real mystery novel, this book is not for you. While shelved as mystery and called an amateur sleuth on the inside cover, Isabel is commissioned by a worried single mother to investigate her son's persistent claims that he had a past life. Delving into the paranormal, though she does not really believe it herself, Isabel investigates around the area of Scotland the young boy seemed to be referencing. I will not say what she found, or to what conclusions she came to with the mother.

I'll only say that I enjoyed visiting with Isabel, her husband Jamie, their little boy Charlie, and the numerous quirky characters that make up Isabel's life in Edinburgh. The pages given to Isabel's work on her philosophical magazine, The Review of Applied Ethics, were interesting and I did not mind that most of the story was about her life and characters, as opposed to more plot-driven drama and suspense.

If you're looking for a cozy read, with some interesting characters, and just a hint of mystery, give this book a try. By my reasoning, if you enjoy it, there's more in the series to check out (and I have and so far I am enjoying them as well.)

The only qualm I had, which not everyone will have, is that though Isabel was so generous and open-minded about so many things, and prided herself upon these facts, I found her to be close-minded and dismissive on the subject of religion. When God or Protestantism or anything hinting at a deity appears, Isabel seems to have the view that many have been "Enlightened" past that stage, where ethics and morals are the foundation themselves, and not a belief in a higher power being the cornerstone which leads to such morals and convictions. Now, I'm fine with a character being atheist, really, but it bothers me when they believe themselves to be "above religion" and to almost scoff or pity the folks who hold on to a sense of belief, likening it to the tooth fairy (I can't remember which of the Isabel novels I saw that idea in, but it was there!) On all other points though I found Isabel to be kind and intelligent, dealing in mysteries only to help others caught in them.

So while this isn't a fully comprehensive review, it has bobs of this and that and gives the feel and idea of the book and series, I hope. Those are my thoughts, and I'd love to hear yours. Have you read any Isabel Dalhousie novels? Does anyone else find philosophy and morals as interesting as I do? (I'm sure some do!) What mysteries do you love to read?

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