Alexander McCall Smith

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There were few other passengers: a man in an

There were few other passengers: a man in an overcoat, his head sunk against his chest; a couple with arms around each other, impervious to their surroundings; and a teenage boy with a black scarf wound round his neck, Zorro-style. Isabel smiled to herself: a microcosm of our condition, she thought. Loneliness and despair; love and its self-absorption; and sixteen, which was a state all its own.

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Surely it is better, thought Domenica, that

Surely it is better, thought Domenica, that forty-five should buy the book and actually read it, than should many thousands, indeed millions, buy it and put it on their shelves, like…Professor Hawking’s Brief History of Time. That was a book that had been bought by millions, but had been demonstrated to have been read by only a minute proportion of those who had acquired it. For do we not all have a copy of that on our shelves, and who amongst us can claim to have read beyond the first page, in spite of the pellucid prose of its author and his evident desire to share with us his knowledge of…of whatever it is that the book is about?

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The difficulty, of course, with standing up to women

The difficulty, of course, with standing up to women was that it appeared to make little difference. At the end of the day,a man was no match for a woman…. The only thing to do was to try to avoid situations where women might corner you. And that was difficult, because women had a way of ensuring that you were neatly boxed in, which was exactly what had happened to him. He should have been more careful. He should have been on his guard when she offered him cake. That was her technique, he now understood; just as Eve had used an apple to trap Adam, so [she] had used fruit cake. Fruit cake, apples; it made no difference really. Oh foolish, weak men!

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Plenty of people were writing novels; in fact, if

Plenty of people were writing novels; in fact, if one did a survey in the street, half of Edinburgh was writing a novel, and this meant that there really weren’t enough characters to go round. Unless, of course, one wrote about people who were themselves writing novels. And what would the novels that these fictional characters were writing be about? Well, they would be novels about people writing novels.

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