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La's Orchestra Saves the World

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I just finished this book last night. It tells the story of a young woman's life from early childhood until her mid-50s. She is in her late 20s when WWII starts and her marriage "shattered" (that's from the book cover, so it's not a spoiler). She is relatively comfortable financially and gets more comfortable as time goes on, but leaves London to live in a small town. There, she has a garden, helps a farmer with his hens, meets a young Polish refugee, Feliks, and organizes an orchestra. The orchestra runs for 5 years and finishes up with a "victory" concert at the end of the war. It reassembles one more time during some political disturbances in the 1960s, leading to an important resolution of a key plot point.


I enjoyed this book, but did not love it. I enjoyed it for McCall Smith's writing style, which I always enjoy, and for the themes that he seems constantly to employ in his work: the importance of the individual's actions in society, the quite understandable lure of physical beauty, and the very human desire to be truly loved. There are probably other themes that I missed (I was a history major in college in large part because obvious themes of writing weren't always obvious to me).


What I didn't like was that the pacing felt "off." In particular, the orchestra of the title is not all that important in the book. But also, La always seems to be very ahead of or very behind the important events of her life.

She marries young and suddenly, is quickly left and divorced, and just as quickly "widowed," meaning her ex-husband dies. Then she has a long period of solitude in which Feliks enters her life, but does not stay, in part because of her actions. She moves back to London, has a job and loses it, and then runs into Feliks again, 15 years later. A few years after that, he comes to visit the town and her. Suddenly, after all those years, she asks him to stay with her, after holding her tongue almost 20 years before. He agrees. Then the book ends.

McCall Smith may have meant to do this on purpose. I think a lot of lives were out of sync after WWII. I also think that people are a little less self-conscious about admitting to and pursuing love as they get older (that's a reference to the information in the spoiler, admittedly, but it's not a spoiler itself, which is why I left it in). But I still found that aspect of the book frustrating.


Despite these flaws (if they are flaws and not the actual point of the book), I liked it. But I like all of his books, even the Portuguese Irregular Verb ones, which many people find a little off-putting.

Well, I can see what's off-putting about snipping a dog's legs off, but I still laughed until I cried.


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