To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski (as Sarah Russell)

She could only say defiantly, “Well, even if what you think its true it’s not all that wrong. You’ve never had to do without your husband, and in any case, you’re different from me. Some women can do without a man and some can’t, and I’m one of those that can’t.” 

Oh, the lies that we tell ourselves to allow us to behave however we choose. 

“Deborah, said Joe, “I want to tell you what my wife said to me in New York just before I came away. she said, “Joe, you’re a normal man and we’re maybe going to be parted for a long time. It’s no good shutting our eyes to what’s going to happen, but I’m going to ask you one thing. Don’t cheapen our marriage. I’d hate you to think of you going with any cheap woman and then coming back to me. But if you ever find a girl you can really respect, like you do me, I wouldn’t mind so much, because it wouldn’t be cheap.”” 

And the consequences that those lies can have. 

To Bed With Grand Music is a story about those lies – ones that we sometimes don’t realise are untruths – and those consequences. 

The story open with Deborah in bed with her husband Graham. He is about to go away and, though he does not offer the same, she promises loyalty and fidelity. 

But that promise is swiftly broken. Deborah is bored at home and her mother and her housekeeper are more than willing to take care of her infant son. And so Deborah heads for London. To keep busy, to help the war effort, to be happier… 

But Deborah meets Joe, a charming American, a family man without his family. A relationship develops. When Joe is sent overseas Deborah meets Sheldon, another American. And then Pierre, an older Frenchman. 

“Pierre, said Deborah urgently. “Will you teach me to be a good mistress?” 

“I tell you it is a question of temperament,” said Pierre, “and you do not understand, because you have not got that temperament. But you have got a lot of other things, beauty and freshness and naivety.” 

“To hell with naivety,” though Deborah angrily, “I’m damned if I’m going to be put off learning what I want, just because Pierre likes me naive.” 

I couldn’t find it in myself to like Deborah. But though it might seem that it would be easy to dismiss her as selfish and vacuous, it wasn’t. 

There isn’t too much background, but it was fairly clear that Deborah was a trophy wife. A woman who could only see herself as significant in relation to her man. Her mother’s character strongly suggested that she had been brought up to be just that. She had no other interests, no idea how to occupy her time.  

But she lied to herself about what she was doing, what the effects would be. Did she realise? I think she did, but I think she just lied to herself again so she could carry on. 

Yes, she was selfish. She was vacuous.  And she was responsible for her actions and their effects. 

There would be more men as Deborah turns slowly from a faithless wife into a scarlet woman. Her journey was compelling and utterly convincing. 

And so I found another Marghanita Laski book that I could argue with while reading. She is so good at that! 

She’s great at characters and storytelling too, and she makes some very telling points along the way about double standards and the emotional effects of war. 

And then there’s the ending. She is so so good at endings, and this one is stunning. War is over, and the implications of that do not suit Deborah one little bit. Even after everything that has gone before, it is a shock to realise what Deborah has become. 

Little Boy Lost. The Village. The Victorian Chaise-Longue. To Bed With Grand Music. 

Four novels by Marghanita Laski reissued by Persephone books. All different and all excellent.

Oh for a fifth!

7 responses

  1. I hope there is a fifth also! I only have The Village to read now.

    I am still getting to grips with Deborah whilst I write a review this one and that is not an easy feat. I completely agree that Laski is so very good and creating argument with her reader. I have such admiration for her versatility and originality also.

  2. Pingback: Persephone Update 10 | Paperback Reader

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one. I’ve never heard of this author before but you make this one sound very intriguing!

  4. I love your review – I need to stop reading them because I want all the books you feature! I think Marghanita Laski is superb, and I am itching to read The Village now, followed by this marvellous and infuriating sounding book!

  5. I think one of the reasons why this read is so engaging is you’re invited into Deborah’s choices at every juncture: the author affords you glimpses of her rationale and you can trace her justifications, and sometimes you even agree with them, despite yourself (the housekeeper does adore Timmy after all, so spending more time with her isn’t really a “bad thing”, etc.). It’s not about backstory, it’s all about immediacy, which fits perfectly with the wartime setting, and you’re caught right up in it.

  6. I’m catching up with posts from Persephone Week and so I just read your excellent review now. I also reviewed this recently. I felt exactly the same way about the book. Laski is indeed brilliant and I wish there were more books by her to read.

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