Tuesday, 21 August 2012
La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith
What a beautifully put together little novel I thought this was. McCall Smith is well known for several series of fiction, the best known being The Ladies No 1 Detective Agency, set in Botswana. This story is nothing like those books. The heroine, Lavender (or La), is nothing like Mma Ramotswe. It is not amusing, but serious – and about a serious time.
La’s husband has left her and gone to live in France with a woman he met during the course of work with his family’s wine import business. When an accident in one of the cellars leaves him unconscious, we know that he will die and La will be on her own. She moves from London to a cottage in a small Suffolk village owned by her in-laws. Learning to live in a small village, volunteering to help a local farmer out with his chickens and learning how small a world a village can be, La decides to set up a small orchestra, give a couple of concerts, and hopefully, if Britain wins WW2, to give a victory concert.
That’s it. But it isn’t at all, for knitted into that little life are a few characters who are interwined with La’s, and one of them is Feliks, a Polish airman who can no longer fly. He becomes part of her orchestra, and part of her life for a short while. The doubts of a woman badly let down by her husband, the surroundings of war from the air base just up the road, the strangeness of the Pole, who is obviously a gentleman rather than a peasant......
There are some uncomfortable truths here; some people don’t like foreigners, and La herself discovers something very unsettling. But it really is worth reading – and I had to go back to the first few pages as soon as I had read the last page – because the circle is joined.
It is a lovely, lovely read, and such a surprise from this author – I obviously missed it a few years ago when first published but I’ve made up for that now. For those of you who love a well constructed story, do read about La – for although she is as pale a character as her name suggests, you will be on her side.