Alexander McCall Smith - La's Orchestra Saves the World (4 stars)

Alexander McCall Smith - La's Orchestra Saves the World

When a master of storytelling such as Alexander McCall Smith puts pen to paper, we have come to expect great things. And he doesn't disappoint with this latest stand-alone title, a warm and captivating tale of strength, passion and friendship set in wartime Britain. Following an education at Cambridge and a young marriage, La Stone moves to a sleepy Suffolk village to escape painful memories in London just as war is declared on Nazi Germany. Times are so tough that she sets up an orchestra for the inhabitants of the surrounding areas in an effort to boost morale among both civilians and soldiers, developing extremely close bonds in the process.

McCall Smith captures these characters and the era beautifully, but perhaps most impressive is heroine La with her love of music and unwavering spirit keeping us hooked from start to finish. Yet another literary triumph to add to the list.

La's Orchestra Saves the World is published by Polygon.

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1. snoug18 Jan 2009, 9:27pm5 stars Alexander McCall Smith - La's Orchestra Saves the World Report

La's Orchestra Saves the World - Alexander McCall Smith

Another gentle, powerful accomplishment by Prof McCall Smith, CBE. This time dedicated to his colleague JK Mason (with whom he used to write text books on Medical Ethics).

With each new novel by AMS I'm increasingly intrigued at how well he accomplishes the task - where eminent writers like Lawrence failed in my view - of creating and conveying credibly what goes on inside women's heads.

His story of La (pronounced as in fa, so, la) and her life in Suffolk around the time of World War II is mild and deliberately avoids thrills, surges or catastrophes of the thriller-variety. Yet the story is powerful and sucks you into this handmaiden's life. During the last half I was unable to put the book down and had to finish it to see whether she had courage to match her emotions.

La's Orchestra, like many of AMS's other novels, contains a sprinkling of his gentle ethics, eased into the text without pretension or patronisation. I feel AMS must spout these wonderings almost as naturally as breathing...as unconsciously as he always finds some way to mention his beloved Edinburgh in his writings. Some passages read with gravity, as if they should be quotable in decades to come.

What rouses my curiosity - the biggest question I am left with having read this novel - is whether he is retelling the story of someone's wartime experiences, intertwined perhaps with his own experience of having created his small Scottish orchestra? The story lives on in the brain as real as if La herself had been an aquaintance, telling it over shared afternoon tea at her kitchen table. While AMS doesn't describe Suffolk with the same affection he writes of Edinburgh in his 44 Scotland Street novels, or of Botswana in his No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, one has the feeling he's spent time there and in Cambridge. He himself, born in 1948, is too young to have experienced World War II and its aftermath.

There's no indication in any of the front and back cover blurb that he hasn't created the whole story from scratch, but it's so mild a story and so real a tale, so imtimately told, that if I were ever to meet AMS it's one of the many questions I would put to him. Perhaps the dedication is a clue?

If criticism were to be had, my only point would be that he starts the novel with La's descendants but doesn't tie this up at the end.

Fortunately, this sage and multi-talented academic has taken so wonderfully in his retirement from academic Ethics to the creation of characters and storylines (nearly all females) even now, having been up to date momentarily with all his productions, I discover I have yet more novels to read and discover by him. The man is a prolific writer!

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