Saturday, January 16, 2010
To Bed With Grand Music - Marghanita Laski
I’ve been back at work for a week now, and, apart from enduring Melbourne’s hottest night for 100 years on Monday, it hasn’t been too bad. I love my job, my only complaint is that it interferes with my reading. I have finished a book this week though. To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski is one of the latest publications from Persephone Books. One of Persephone’s strengths is the wide range of writing about WWII that they’ve published. Short stories by Mollie Panter-Downes, the wonderful diary, Few Eggs & No Oranges by Vere Hodgson & novels like Saplings by Noel Streatfeild & A House In The Country by Jocelyn Playfair. To Bed With Grand Music is a very different view of the war to the stiff upper lip of Vere Hodgson & the nobility of Cressida in A House In The Country. Deborah & Graham tearfully say goodbye before he’s posted overseas. He doesn’t promise to be faithful to her but says he would never let another woman replace her in his heart. Deborah is living in a country village with their son, Timmy, & faithful housekeeper, Mrs Chalmers. Deborah is very young & soon finds village life too constricting. She gets a job in London, moves in with Madeleine, a sophisticated friend from student days, & swears fidelity to Graham, spending her evenings alone in the flat while Madeleine goes out with a succession of men. When Deborah meets Joe, an American Lieutenant, she begins an affair with him in a glow of romantic feelings. She still feels loyal to Graham, & Joe is loyal in his way to his own wife, but Deborah realises that she’s becoming frustrated & bored with her life & she gradually succumbs to the little luxuries Joe can provide. When he’s posted overseas, Deborah is sure she’ll never have another affair, but soon she’s going out with Sheldon Z Wynuck, another American officer, but a step down in class & sophistication from Joe. Then, she meets a suave Frenchman who teaches her, at her request, how to be a good mistress. Then there’s a Brazilian & a friend of her husband’s who looks her up when he’s on leave... Deborah’s moral sense has completely abandoned her by this time. She has also virtually abandoned Timmy, who is looked after by Mrs Chalmers & hardly sees his mother. Deborah’s own mother, Mrs Betts, has abandoned her daughter to her fate by this time, only intent on seeing that her grandson is cared for. Mrs Betts’s attitude to Deborah struck me as quite unfeeling. She’s only in her early twenties at the beginning of the war but her mother does very little to guide her when she realises how her daughter is living in London. Mrs Betts allows Deborah to rationalise her desire to leave Timmy because she sees that he’s happier with the housekeeper than with his moody mother. She seems to blame Deborah’s dead father for this tendency to lax morals & washes her hands of her, apart from paying her debts at one point. The ending of the book is ambiguous. The war has ended, Graham will be coming home, but will their marriage survive? I find it fascinating that the book was published so soon after the war (1946). It wasn’t well-reviewed & it’s easy to see why. The picture it paints of women living the high life while their men were serving overseas is not the image Britain wanted to see. Deborah is selfish, self-seeking & predatory by the end of the book, but I have some sympathy for her. Left alone with a small child while her husband has a cushy posting in Egypt, no support from her mother, few friends & no inner resources to fall back on, it’s not surprising to see her downward progress.