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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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McCall Smith, Alexander: La's Orchestra Saves the World

  Amazon  

4 stars

In his new stand-alone novel La's Orchestra Saves the World, Alexander McCall Smith tells the story of La (Lavendar) Stone, a Cambridge graduate who marries her sweetheart because it's the thing to do and subsequently finds herself falling in love with him. But her life doesn't unravel quite as she might have expected. World War II intervenes, for one thing, and La finds herself living in a small village in Suffolk, tending hens as part of the war effort and conducting an amateur orchestra by way of keeping up morale in the village and on the nearby RAF base.

I had every intention while reading the book to express surprise in my review that the author should have tacked onto his story such an unnecessary and uninteresting first chapter: it's set probably in the present day, or close enough, and introduces La as someone already dead, her orchestra a distant memory. Her life story, then, is a reminiscence. I dislike having a story framed in this way as it distances one from the main narrative. And I suppose it's an unwelcome reminder of the ephemerality of a single life. It tells you the end of the story--she's dead; it's all finished now one way or the other--before it even begins. That said, when you get to the last pages of the book, the first chapter suddenly makes sense, so it is not just an unnecessary appendage after all. I still don't like it, though, and I don't like the last chapter, either. It would be a slightly different book--but quite possibly a better one--if the first and last chapters were simply cut from it and the rest left as it stands. The last sentence of the book's penultimate chapter would even serve very nicely as this revised story's conclusion. Still, La's Orchestra, a quiet book about momentous times, is yet another worthy addition to McCall Smith's extensive oeuvre.

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