La's Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith

La is an intelligent woman studying at Cambridge who falls, more by default than by design, for Richard, whose family owns a wine importing business. But she loses Richard and goes to live in a sleepy Suffolk village, which is where she's living when the war breaks out. She spends the war helping out at a local farm, and, with the help of someone from a local airbase, sets up an amateur orchestra.

A nice gentle read, but felt rather slight: unlike the Scotland Street books, there's only really one character in here. And while La is sympathetically drawn, and there are some nice touches of insight, it wasn't really enough to make me really feel for her as much as I wanted to.

There is a source of potential romance in La's life in the shape of a Polish airman, Feliks, who works on a farm after being injured. It was interesting to find a bit more background on the Polish involvement in the war: I hadn't realised that they were banned from participating in the victory parade after the war because Stalin didn't want them there (or at least, that's what it says in this book) - that's pretty shameful after what they did for us.

It felt like the book could have been fleshed out a bit more, and there were parts that hadn't really been finished properly, almost as if Smith had rushed through it a bit. E.g. the theme of betrayal came up, but wasn't really explored as much as I think it could have been. And (looking back at it now, I remember that) the very start of the book has an introductory chapter with a couple of characters, now in their old age, re-visiting the village where they remembered growing up during the war. It wasn't until just now that I realised no further mention was made of this - I don't think these two made an appearance in the main narrative, and although information is revealed in this section which casts a slightly different light on the rest of the book, there was no closing section to bring wrap things up from that perspective. I'm can't imagine he intended but forgot to do so, but I'm sure it would have been better if he had included a corresponding afterword: as it was, the book ended rather abruptly. Oh yes, and when Feliks is introduced to the story, we're told that he's referred to as "Dab". But he hardly ever is, after that - it's "Feliks".

Worth reading, but again I can't help feeling it would be better if he wrote fewer books and spent more time on each one.

Completed : 31-Aug-2009

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