My book review of 'La's Orchestra Saves the World' by Alexander McCall Smith

by Alexander McCall Smith
La's Orchestra Saves the World
by Alexander McCall Smith

Rural Suffolk at the outbreak of the Second World War is about as far from Botswana, redbush tea and the No1 Ladies' Detective Agency as you can get, but this is the setting for the latest story from the prolific and much-loved writer, Alexander McCall Smith.

La's Orchestra Saves the World was originally conceived by the author as a series of 12 four minute short stories commissioned by Radio Three as interval talks a couple of years ago. Feeling there were elements he wanted to develop further, he turned these tiny beginnings into a novel.

La (short for Lavender) is a divorcee who moves from London to the country for a fresh start just as the war breaks out. To entertain the locals, occupy the RAF officers stationed nearby, and soothe her own broken heart, she decides to form an amateur orchestra. One of the recruits is Feliks, a refugee from Poland, and a friendship develops. When war ends, life has to start again.

"This is really a romance," says McCall Smith. "It's about La's life and her involvement with this Polish airman and her coming to terms with her failed marriage. She came to me as a fully formed character - an intelligent, lonely woman, she rather appealed to me."

"Suffolk proved the perfect setting for this story," he goes on, because of its proximity to London, its contribution to the war effort through the air, and because it was a part of England that had always appealed to him. "I have always thought Suffolk lovely," he says, "with those tremendous, wide open skies. Places I know and like do occur in my fiction."


Catherine interviewed Alexander McCall Smith for the East Anglian Daily Times, Suffolk magazine and Booktime.

Review date: November 2010