To Bed With Grand Music is the second Persephone book I have read. Having discovered the wonder of Persephone through the blogging world I have become slightly addicted to slowly devouring the catalogue and attempting to decide what book to purchase/read next. To be fair purchase is more my weakness as it takes me forever to get round to reading anything on my bookcase, but the thought is always there. To Bed With Grand Music appealed to me in this instance as it is set during the Second World War and follows the life of a woman left behind whilst her husband moves abroad in a ‘safe’ job; I do love a good wartime story.
The novel begins in the bedroom of Deborah Robertson, who is saying a prolonged goodbye to her husband, Graham, before he ventures off to Cario to undertake his duty to King and Country, leaving Deborah and their young son in a sleepy village. The couple are acutely aware that they might not see one another for years and Deborah fears her husband’s fidelity, but Graham reassures her that whilst he might not be completely faithful, it will be fine as long as he doesn’t fall in love with anyone else. And so Deborah and Timmy wave him off and settle into a life of quiet solitude. At least until Deborah decides this life of domesticity is too dull.
It is in London, whilst catching up with a somewhat promiscuous old school friend that Deborah’s life takes a turn and whilst the first one night stand leaves her sickened and cold, it is not long before Deborah falls in to a life of affairs, parties and lust. Admittedly the first affair, with American soldier Joe, shows signs of genuine love and feelings, as both admit they are missing their spouses, but this does not last long. Deborah then jumps from man to man, party to party and in need of more illicit goods to maintain her glamorous (false) lifestyle, leaving Graham, Timmy and her life in the country far behind her.
To Bed With Grand Music was a lovely, cosy read. Although I started it before school began and then took a short hiatus before finishing it, I found it easy to become re-engrossed in the narrative and wartime Britain. It was an interesting and shocking novel in terms of Deborah’s behaviour and attitude towards men; I’m not sure why I am surprised considering I live in the twenty-first century, but I think it was just unexpected of a woman living in the 1940s. I don’t know why I was so naive, as I always feel that wartime adds an element of romance to any story, the not knowing what will happen next, when the next air raid might be or how long one might live always adds a carefree feeling of ‘live for the moment’ so of course people are going to live by the rule. Maybe it is the fact that Deborah is a woman. Literature and history almost stereotype men as incapable of fidelity in certain situations, but for a woman to be as promiscuous seems a juxtaposition of the popular cultural perception of the loving wife. Not that I agree with this cultural stereotype, but this is a common view. This carefree attitude to love is not the only way Deborah breaks with female conventions; as the novel progresses her feelings towards her son grow colder and harsher. Although she is eager to show Timmy off to the men in her life, it is clear that she is more interested in the idea of this rather than the reality. She soon comes to view Timmy as a burden, an embarrassment who cries during air raids and fails to live up to the high expectations set by his mother. Her attitude towards her only child reminded me of the attitudes shown by Linda in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and the female protagonist in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, both are women who reject their children and show little or no maternal instinct. All three novels are written during a similar time period, perhaps suggesting that some writers were keen to cause controversy by highlighting the fact not all women are nurturing and motherly.
I loved the ending of To Bed With Grand Music as it seemed to arrive full circle, leading the reader to wonder if Deborah, now she has completed her ‘education’, is preparing to pass her new found knowledge on to another naive, young newly wed. Laski’s writing style was so comforting and easy to fall in to that I will certainly be looking forward to another read from her books on the Persephone Catalogue, in fact I added a few to my birthday list and I am hoping to open a few dove grey book shaped parcels when my birthday arrives next week.