Morality for Beautiful Girls


Cover of "Morality for Beautiful Girls"



That’s the title of the book I just finished reading, by Alexander McCall Smith.  There are many things I enjoy about McCall Smith’s books, but something I savour every time I open another one is the title.  I smile as I crack open books with titles like “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, “Tears of the Giraffe“, “The Kalahari Typing School for Men“.


The titles are certainly indicative of the books’ contents: witty, intriguing, wryly humorous, genuine, insightful, sharp.  I especially like the main character’s, Mma Ramotswe’s, ability to put abstract philosophy into concrete, everyday images.  These books take place in modern-day Botswana and follow the main character, Precious Ramotswe, as she moves through life while operating her independent detective agency consisting of herself and her secretary, Mma Makutsi.


Morality for Beautiful Girls” is a look at the nature of morality and who should decide what true morality is.  McCall Smith weaves tribal wisdom with philosophy and winds up with a would-be murderer who isn’t, apprentice mechanics with an eye for girls, women’s rights thinking in a masculine culture, international politics and beauty pageants, and the effects of depression on Mma Ramotswe’s fiance.  It’s a fast-paced read.  McCall Smith writes about the world as it is with all its pain and joy, from a perspective of warmth, love, humour, and hope.


These books are part of a series of detective novels, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, written by Alexander McCall Smith.  According to the book-jacket bio, he was born in what is now Zimbabwe, has taught at the University of Zimbabwe and Edinburgh University, and currently lives in Scotland with frequent trips to Botswana.  I’d love to meet Mr. McCall Smith one day.  From the tantalizing few sentences in his bio, he must be an interesting man.


I’ll leave you with a quote from the book that I found particularly meaningful:


Her friend who treated her maid badly was not a wicked person….It occurred to Mma Ramotswe that such behaviour was no more than ignorance; an inability to understand the hopes and aspirations of others.  That understanding, thought Mma Ramotswe, was the beginning of all morality.  If you knew how a person was feeling, if you could imagine yourself in her position, then surely it would be impossible to inflict further pain.  Inflicting pain in such circumstances would be like hurting oneself.


And one more that I just can’t resist including:


Most morality, thought Mma Ramotswe, was about doing the right thing because it had been identified as such by a long process of acceptance and observance.  You simply could not create your own morality because your experience would never be enough to do so.What gives you the right to think you know better than your ancestors?  Morality is for everybody, and this means that the views of more than one person are needed to create it.


Well, I guess I may as well make it three.  Following this last quote, Mma Ramotswe recalls hearing a lecture on the radio about French Existentialist philosophers.  She is asounded when she realizse that existentialist people have been living around her all her life.  In fact, she has been married to an existentialist at one time.  It had ended very badly.


It was very existentialist, perhaps, to go out to bars every night while your pregnant wife stayed at home, and even more existentialist to go off with girls – young existentialist girls – you met in bars.  It was a good life being an existentialist, although not too good for all the other, nonexistentialist people around one.





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