As a huge Alexander McCall Smith fan it was really only a matter of time before I picked up his stand alone novel La's Orchestra Saves The World. It jumped out at me at a recent trip to my library and after reading the first few lines I was drawn in - as I find happens with most McCall Smith novels - he sets up a world and characters you want to learn more about.
The main character, La (unfortunately short for Lavender she explains during the book) is a woman in her late 20's who moves from London to the Suffolk countryside shortly before the start of World War 2 after her husband runs off to France with another woman. La is an intelligent, educated woman who has concerns about moving to a small village but after her husband leaves she feels she needs to move away from London for a time. As La is learning to fit into village life Hitler is gathering power in Germany and World War 2 begins and after a chance encounter with a fellow music lover the decision to start a small village orchestra to boost moral is made. This event does not come until quite late in the book and to be honest I had completely forgotten about the fact that it was coming up - even with the title of the book making it very clear! The creation of the orchestra seemed to come out of the blue - by that stage I was enjoying reading about La and her daily life - the challenges she was facing in becoming a "local" and dealing with the impact of the war and the personal relationships she was building - I didn't actually need the orchestra to focus the book in any way.
I found this book to be a very different reading experience to the other McCall Smith novels I have read - this book seemed a lot heavier and dealt with issues in a much more serious way than some of his other books I have read such as The Scotland Street series. Obviously the setting of the book in the midst of World War 2 has contributed to this tone.
Overall it was the character of La that made this book for me - I was so glad that McCall Smith carried on to let us see what had happened to her after the war had ended - it was just right.