The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

Was this what being a parent was going to be like? A life of anxiety, of fretting about little things? Have a child and give a hostage to fortune; yes, but have any human link, any friendship, and a hostage was given . . . A few minutes earlier she had thought of the giving of hostages. Well, she said to herself, I’ve just given another one.

I just don’t want to go on and on anymore about Alexander McCall Smith’s books. I mean, I always read them, I always love them, what else do you want to know? Today I read the newest in the Isabel Dalhousie series, The Careful Use of Compliments. I really enjoyed it. I know you are shocked.

In this book, Isabel, who is in her 40s, has recently had her first child, and, in the quote above, she considers the idea that loving people is a little bit like being held hostage by fate – things are going to matter to you more because of that. You are going to care more and be more affected by things when you love other people.

While I see that perspective, especially from Isabel, who has lived alone for quite a long time, I think I feel quite the opposite. For me, loving people and letting them into my life has been more like the giving up of hostages. Here I let go of my need to be “together” all the time. There goes my need to be right, out of respect and love for my friend. Watch as I say farewell to the walls that keep me from believing people actually care about me.

I wonder if we’ll see Isabel, in later books, change her mind about what it means to open up to people. She has grown quite a lot in that area over four books, choosing to risk her emotions when she could play it safe. It’s been interesting to see her navigate her relationships as she makes those choices.

Or maybe I am wrong about all of this, since I’m not a parent. Maybe parenting really is like being held hostage.

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