La's Orchestra Saves the World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 August, 2009, 12:00am

La's Orchestra Saves the World
by Alexander McCall Smith
Abacus HK$214

The one-man publishing house known as Alexander McCall Smith continues to knock out books at a rate that would make Muhammad Ali blush. But anyone expecting a whimsical jaunt in the manner of his other works, or Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, may be disappointed by this wartime tale of an orchestra raising the morale of an English village: the sections about the musicians are charming enough but this is Smith with the lights turned down low. Our hero is Lavender 'La' Ferguson, whose 'childhood was spent in the shadow of Death', Smith notes cheerily. La's mother and her husband Richard both die before their time; her father might as well be dead for all the charisma he possesses. Having rushed us through these opening plot devices, AMS flies into the second world war. Moving to Richard's village in Suffolk, La works for the Women's Land Army, forms her tone-deaf orchestra and falls for a Polish pilot called Felix. Wistful and even melancholic in tone, La's Orchestra proves AMS has several (badly tuned) strings to his bow. But I hope he doesn't abandon the more light-hearted day job just yet.