Fiction Review: The Geometry of Holding Hands

The Geometry of Holding Hands, by Alexander McCall Smith

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This was an ARC from NetGalley.

Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher, returns in the thirteenth volume of this series. I jumped into this one cold, since I haven’t read the previous Dalhousie books, but I immediately fell in love with Isabel and the way her mind works.

Geometry has a very loose plot, involving an inheritance Isabel is asked to manage, plus her niece Cat’s plans to marry and sell off the deli Isabel had helped her set up with family trust money. The heart of the novel, however, lies in the way Isabel reasons her way through the obstacles that face her in these endeavors. Although she has her moments of very human knee-jerk reaction, she tries hard to think critically and not assume the worst (or best) of people.

Isabel’s main drive in helping others is what she refers to as “moral proximity,” meaning that the moment she finds out that someone asking for help has some personal ties to her (either because she knows them herself, or because they know someone who’s family, or an acquaintance) she feels the need to become involved if they ask.

Isabel had a theory of moral proximity that governed her decisions as to when she was obliged to act.

The Geometry of Holding Hands

She’s also unfailingly sincere (philosophies of sincerity form part of the discourse here), and feels it’s her duty to keep any promise she makes. This eventually causes her to become overwhelmed when the demands become more complicated than she had first thought. Isabel’s journey here is one of learning when to step aside and let others handle conflict, and learning to place value on her own time and resources without feeling guilty about saying no to a request.

And perhaps it’s better to have good intentions that you don’t act on, than not have any good intentions at all.

The Geometry of Holding Hands

My favorite aspect of her personality, however, was the way her mind jumped from one topic to a related one, and then (usually) circled back to the original idea: “Hers was a particular form of consciousness… not a stream of consciousness but a meandering, deltoid consciousness, in which memories and speculations… rubbed shoulders with awareness of the present.” This mirror’s the novel’s structure as well, since it begins and ends mostly at the same point, while undertaking a rich voyage in between.

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