1. In an Entertainment Weekly interview Alexander
McCall Smith was asked which fictional character he most identifies
with, and he answered, "Isabel Dalhousie and I agree on just about
everything. She seems to think as I do." Which one of his
characters do you most identify or agree with?
2. One of the early reviews called The Charming Quirks
of Others "a powerful demonstration of McCall Smith''s
ability to dramatize the ways everyday situations spawn the ethical
dilemmas that keep philosophers in business." (Kirkus
Reviews) Describe some of the dilemmas in the book and discuss
what you would have done in Isabel''s or another character''s
3. The novel opens with Isabel and Guy Peploe discussing gossip.
How does this conversation allude to later events in the book? What
is your feeling on gossip? Is it harmless and/or pointless? Does it
have real purpose in social settings?
4. Do you agree with Isabel when she considers that "people were
only too ready to believe things that were manifestly untrue" and
that people are happy to hear others cast in a negative light? Do
you think we all do this despite our better judgment?
5. The author discusses the dilemma of a working mother in this
novel. "I could spend all my time with Charlie, which is what I
would love to do. But would I be any happier? And would it make any
difference to Charlie?" Discuss this, and how child rearing is
extremely important for a mother, but so is working and feeling
responsible for something outside the home. If you have children,
did you go to work while raising them or did you stay home, and how
did you come to your decision to do one or the other?
6. Isabel often acts on her intuition; sometimes it leads her to
the truth, sometimes not. What is your opinion about acting with
your gut, or on simple intuition? Discuss some situations where
your intuition was correct, and some where it was not.
7. Discuss the theme of forgiveness in the novel.
8. What do you think the author is saying about different kinds
of love in the novel (loving your children, your partner, your
friends, all of humanity)?
9. What do you make of the title? If we look at others faults as
charming or positive, would it be easier to accept or put up with
them? And if we openly accepted our own faults, would it be easier
to accept others faults? What does Isabel think?
10. Isabel is jealous of Jamie and his friendship with a fellow
musician. How does she overcome her jealousy? What are other ways
people overcome jealousy? Are there situations where one should
simply accept your jealousy and address it head on?
11. Discuss the importance of songs and poetry in this and in
all of Alexander McCall Smith''s novels. What role does music and
poetry play in the novels and in life?
12. Who are some of the poets that Alexander McCall Smith often
quotes in his novels, especially in this Isabel Dalhousie series?
Who are some of your favorite poets?
13. Another important cultural element in Isabel''s life, in
addition to music and poetry, is art. Various artists are mentioned
and this novel focuses on a particular piece of art by Scottish
painter Raeburn. How is art tied to Isabel''s life and this novel?
Why is Isabel generous with this particular painting of her
14. How do art and music help Isabel deal with the ethical
issues that pop up in the novels and with the detective work she
does "helping" others?
15. Isabel wishes for happiness for Harold Slade, whom she
really does not care for and who is a bit of a bully, and she
states, "Although it''s harder to love, it''s always better." Do
you agree? Discuss a situation you''ve been in where this worked
16. Do you agree with the final phrase of the book, "Loving
anything with all your heart always brings about understanding, in
time." How does this sentence epitomize or summarize the novel for