Thursday, August 19, 2010

Alexander McCall Smith: La’s Orchestra Saves The World

I’m falling out of love with Alexander McCall Smith, I am. Clearly his writing works best on Botswana, because I don’t know it and therefore can just take his version as written (oh the puns, they do keep flying). In all books that deal with a cultural context that I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the simplifications get too much.

There are lots of rather sweet things in this book, lovely descriptions of countryside (more emotional than factual if you see what I mean) and diverse characters. It’s quite a believable story about how one young woman experienced the war. But the whole thing doesn’t jell (gel? gell? jel?) together. There are several snippets of storyline that meet, but never really one main one or a main point. The orchestra in the title to me plays such a minor role that naming the book after it feels a bit desperate (Just La would have been too short maybe?).

La (short for Lavender) is a young woman whose husband leaves her. She moves to a cottage in Suffolk just as the war starts, and spends it there. Her war contribution, apart from minding chickens, is starting an orchestra – an orchestra that disbands at the end of the war and only plays together one more time, during the Cuba crisis. During the war she befriends a Polish refugee. She wants him to love her. She is lonely. That’s pretty much it, and it should be enough. There doesn’t have to be action. But it feels disjointed, sometimes annoyingly old-fashioned in ideas (stuff about sweet gentle England full of gentle souls who do no harm – tell that to the Zulus).

An easy read but nothing to ache for.

No comments: