Emily Gray’s narration brings vivid life to Lavender, a determinedly no-nonsense bluestocking who, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, finds refuge from a failed marriage in a bucolic English village. There she forms a local orchestra and develops a relationship with Feliks, a flute-playing Polish refugee whom she eventually comes to suspect of being a German spy. Gray’s performance carries reserves of wit and hesitant curiosity towards her new surroundings, her voice conveying a furrowed brow, a quizzical look, and a dry sense of humor, all of which make for an entertaining performance.
Gray is not always helped by her material: Although Alexander McCall Smith is a wildly successful author, with two very popular series of books translated into almost every known language; his latest is an unfocussed affair that doesn’t quite manage to do justice to the very big themes invoked. But only at a few moments does the awkwardness affect Gray’s sparkling performance, notably her handling of the male characters. The supporting cast of country folk are also drawn with a very broad brush, but, again, there is little in the book to support the narrator. Overall her performance is a real gift to the story, bringing spice and liveliness and real involvement to this slender tale.
The story focuses at the dilemma of tending to one’s own garden, Candide-style, in a period of history that demands action and resolve. The great historical forces can feel bolted on to the rest of the narrative, with the characters stumbling over the joints. Also, the author’s attitude towards the importance of music and art in times of war is unclear: Music, we are assured, can "heal the temper of the world", but the presence of a community orchestra seems an unnecessary layer and contributes very little to the story its members are barely visible. Far more convincing is the mirroring of Lavender's feeling that she has betrayed Feliks with Britain's betrayal of the Polish people in the Yalta Conference, and Gray distinctly portrays Lavender’s struggle as well as the character’s underlying moral strength, a quality that is the book’s finest attribute. Dafydd Phillips
©2008 Alexander McCall Smith; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"Delightful...McCall Smith once again creates unforgettable characters and a story that will resonate with readers across generations....A fresh and unforgettable story about the power of human kindness. Highly recommended." (Booklist)
My only complaint with McCall Smith's books is that they are too short! But I guess that's also one of his books' assets - the writing always conveys the breadth of complex ideas and issues that we all face as we traverse the planet, with such economy of expression and lightness of touch, that it seems there is not one extra word or sentence.
And now, with "La's Orchestra" he brings to life the civilian world of WW II with such clarity and resonance it feels as though he could be talking about things that happened yesterday.
When I am in the middle of an Alexander McCall Smith listen, I always feel as though I am with a friend. I think that Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie of the eponymous series, and now La, are all soul mates, rendered in perfect nuance and salient, luxuriant, radiant detail by Alexander McCall Smith. It's always a bit of a downer when and one of these books ends, and sometimes I feel I need a support group for McCall Smith addicts! Fortunately for like-minded readers, McCall Smith is prolific, and one does not have to wait very long for Mme. Ramotswe or Isabel Dalhousie to reappear. Let's hope we see more of La, as well.
I chose this book because I am a very big fan of other books by Alexander McCall Smith. This book did not let me down. Full of heartwarming insights into what it was like to live in England during the war. Thanks to Mr. Smith for another wonderful read!
I really liked Alexander McCall Smith's new book. Being English myself helps, but the best part is the author's *amazing* ability to move me back into time during which England was being attacked by Germany in WWII.
The story is itself charming, as usual for Mr. Smith, but what got me was I could see and almost feel how it must have been to be "on the ground" at that time and realize Hitler and the Germans might actually conquer England. To not know how it would all turn out in the end.
Alexander McCall Smith does it again in this fabulous historical book. He transports the reader back in time when life went forward at a slower pace, reinforcing timeless principles; never give up and it only takes one person to make a lasting difference.
Totally different for AM Smith. I really loved this book. It is one that I told my friends about. Set in England during WW2, it is inspiring and lovely.
I just started to listen to books while driving home from work. "La" was a great escape to another time and place at the end of a busy day. McCall Smith captures the small things that make up a woman's life with great insight. He never fails to please. Emily Gray narrates with style!
Yes. It's a terrific read, very enjoyable, and also a sophisticated little piece of writing.
I don't think in terms of memorable moments.
I don't have favorite characters.
Alexander McCall Smith is underrated because he's such a good read. The way he twists this story, reveals who was involved in the first scene only near the end, avoids cheap tricks, gets inside characters heads...this is a sophisticated writer.
I live in Vermont. My freelance work requires reading critical and expository prose, so I like fanciful escapist fare for fun.
loads of atmosphere
musing, quiet, not as clever or rollicking as Scotland Street series -author and listener try hard to put themselves in the time and place
rushing through the rain to the farm by bike - or perhaps the moment of looking up as the concert begins and there he is in the woodwind section
mostly told from La's point of view: she tries to understand everyone - farm folk were particularly nicely evoked
not nearly enough bookmark breaks for skipping forward and back in case you missed something: not even one per chapter, but something like one every eight chapters--drove me crazy!
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