Laura's Reviews > La's Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
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's review
Mar 26, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: war, light-and-fun
Read in February, 2010

Alexander McCall Smith has a penchant for “cute” titles, some quite funny(At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances). However, something about a character named La, short for Lavender, struck me as too twee even for my low standards. I should have followed my instinct and skipped this, but I hoped for shades of Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society, or maybe “Paradise Road,” or at the very least some insight into the Women’s Land Army.

In brief, the story is about a woman who moves to a farm to wait out World War II and starts an orchestra that meets once a month or so. The book’s failing can be summarized as briefly: None of the plotlines, let alone the themes, is developed. There’s a Polish refugee who might not actually be Polish (spies? moral dilemmas? star-crossed lovers?!?) but nothing thrilling happens. There’s La’s farm work that breezes past chickens and planting potatoes for about five paragraphs total. Then there’s some thief-in-the-neighborhood intrigue that I can’t remember the resolution to because it was dull and underdeveloped, and finally there is the orchestra, the one that “saves the world,” which practices only a few times and has two performances at which nothing happens.

Books that can’t help but be dull are one thing; who would expect drama from Bird Watching for Beginners or How to Be Your Own Accountant? But dull books that should be intriguing are the worst kind of bait-and-switch. This could have been about conflicts of personal and national loyalties, the transcending power of music, and ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances. The big mystery is how you could take these elements and turn out a tedious story. It also — worse still — is philosophically unmoored. For example, La wails about the destruction of war, but then thinks, “Hmm, those Nazis are so terrible that they’re actually evil! We must stop evil.” Later she laments, “Why would we develop more weapons? Who would ever go to war again? Let’s revive the old orchestra and have a concert for peace!” Imagine this oversimplification stretched out for three hundred pages.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Afshin Well done. Totally agree!

message 2: by Jeslyn (new)

Jeslyn Bleccccchhhhh - thanks for the warning, so sorry it took 300 pages off your life...

Lormac I agree. (I might have enjoyed your review more than the book.)

Andrea I actually disagree. These deliberations you write about - isn't that what we all experience? And isn't life mundane? I think the tone throughout this book was very appropriate.

message 5: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Laird Your review, which I like, prompted me to think really hard about what resonated for me. Very stimulating. Cheers, Ian

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