La's Orchestra Saves the World

An oddly disappointing novel from Alexander McCall Smith. It's very different from the other series that I've read of his (Sunday Philosophy Club and No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency), but that's not the problem. It's a gentle read, and should be a good story.

La (short for Lavender) is happily married, but when her husband leaves her for another woman she moves to a small cottage in rural Suffolk. Through the Second World War, she looks after chickens, grows vegetables, becomes a part of her small community, forms an orchestra, and falls in love.

You would think from the book title that the orchestra forms the central part of the novel, but in fact for most of the time it is very much on the periphery. Even when it takes centre stage, it is treated in a very perfunctory fashion. And this is the central problem of the novel, at no point is anything properly developed. La's life with the orchestra is not developed, neither is her relationship with Feliks, or her death - it is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book, and then forgotten about. And in the same way that the plot is patchily developed, so are the characters - it feels more like a sketch for a novel than the novel itself. This is a great shame as I think there were real possibilities with this story, and just occasionally you'd get a glimpse of something that could potentially have been very good. What a shame that it falls so far short.


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