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IN NEED OF TUNING?
on 14 July 2010
A curious one, this. The first half of the novel greatly appeals, it easy to identify with La and to savour the evocative descriptions of England at war. La, her life in disarray after tragedy, tries to settle in an old Suffolk farmhouse. She tends chickens on a neighbouring farm and turns her garden over to vegetables. Gradually she makes friends with a pilot named Tim and a Pole named Feliks. The pace is leisurely, the characters beguiling.
Then everything goes askew. Note the title. Yes, La starts up an orchestra to help raise morale. Surely the orchestra from this point should take centre stage (especially as the author has so much experience of being in one)? Instead, for the most part, it remains on the periphery. More focus is needed on the people in it and its effect on the community. Sadly, everything is further thrown off balance by a creaking subplot involving "stolen" money - the novel's conclusion unsatisfyingly fragmented and seeming rushed. I never worked out how the orchestra saved the world but felt featuring it more prominently would have saved the book.
Contrast the end with that wonderfully intriguing opening chapter! I could not help wishing the novel had as its grand climax the concert to celebrate the end of war, a postscript then taking us back to those two brothers of the start: they still have something of worth to contribute. Everything would have thus been more integrated.
Thanks to Alexander McCall Smith's books I have relished visits to Scotland and Botswana and enjoyed meeting the people he describes. For various reasons, this novel lacked similar impact.