Communication Works

I have just finished reading the sixth book in Alexander McCall Smith's "Sunday Philosophy Club" series, The Lost Art of GratitudeThese novels are centred on Isabel Dalhousie, a forty-something Edinburgh woman who edits a scholarly journal on philosophy, solves minor mysteries, and ponders questions of morality as she goes about her daily life.  A source of pleasure - and instruction - in the novels is the example of good communication that Isabel provides.  Like us at Communication Works she cares about clear communication, and Isabel is a master of the art.

 Isabel confronts those who do her wrong and then disarms them without turning them into enemies.  She knows that even she doesn't always get things right first time, and that there is value in returning to apologise or clarify; she doesn't risk a misunderstanding.  When her fiancé, Jamie, adds "poor chap" to what would otherwise have seemed a heartless observation about the latest boyfriend of Isabel's niece, she notes "the power of small words to do big things"; she could have said the same in the fifth book in the series, when she observes that the condescending Christopher Dove writes "you may be familiar, of course, with" instead of the more generous "you will of course be familiar with".  When, in the fourth book, she is informed by letter of her dismissal from her editorship, Isabel reminds us that a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting are more appropriate means for communicating distressing news.

 Another reason that I enjoy the novels is that the city of Edinburgh features so strongly in them; it's fun to "walk" the city's streets with the books' characters.  Unfortunately, I was jarred back to reality while reading The Lost Art of Gratitude over the matter of whether or not Isabel has a TV.  On page 42 she says, ". . . nor should children be parked in the front of the television," and Jamie (who is living with Isabel) responds, "Which we don't have."  But then, on page 94, there is this: "As [Isabel] spoke, she thought of her own armchair. The last time she had sat in it she had drifted off to sleep while watching the news."

 Perhaps I've forgotten something from an earlier book that accounts for the absence and then presence of a TV in Isabel's house, but that seems unlikely: Prof. McCall Smith is careful to remind the reader, and to ensure that his books stand alone. The occasional missed full stop and closing quotation mark in The Lost Art of Gratitude are relatively minor lapses, but the matter of the TV is more distracting. It reminded me once again of the importance of copyediting, and of how both the author and the reader are let down if the publisher skimps on this part of the process.  Here at Communication Works we can help you avoid these clangers.  Click here  for information about our copyediting service.

 Perhaps the TV question is settled in the seventh book, The Charming Quirks of Others, which I haven't yet read.  In any case, I'm sure it includes more good lessons in communication for me, and I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Written by Janet Bray

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