To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

I read To Bed With Grand Music (1946) by Marghanita Laski for the excellent Undervalued British Women Writers conference I went to a while ago, but it’s been one of those titles I’ve had on my real or imagined tbr pile for a long time. It seems such an unusual novel – and so risky that Laski published it under the pseudonym Sarah Russell.

To BEd With Grand Music

It takes place during the Second World War, and our ‘heroine’ – in a fairly loose sense – is Deborah, whose husband has been called up to fight for King and Country. Before he leaves, he initiates a frank chat about what will happen whilst he’s gone. He can’t, he assures her, be expected to remain celibate. He is sure (he adds) that she will understand. Deborah isn’t happy about it…

But, once alone, she rather quickly falls into her own life of dalliances, kicking off with an American soldier named (of course) Joe. It’s rather more nuanced than that, but the reader can see it coming – she finds her scruples gradually worn down, and after the first, the scruples more or less don’t exist. We are taken on a rather dizzying whirl of the men she has relationships with in London – well, some are rather briefer than relationships – and Laski does a great job of delineating them and demonstrating what their appeal is to Deborah. Sometimes it is power, sometimes money, sometimes charm, sometimes looks. One of them, mais naturallement, is French.

Meanwhile, her son is left in the countryside (with the rather more affectionate and capable housekeeper), and Deborah feels only occasional pangs of guilt.

Deborah understood him. “You’re at least the third person,” she said, ” who has asked me if it mightn’t be better if I went home to my chee-ild. Well, darling, that’s just one of the things I’ve really thought out for myself and I know it’s better to be happy than unhappy, and not only for me but for my baby as well. I like this sort of life, in fact, I love it, and seeing as how I’m hurting no one and doing myself quite a lot of good, I rather think I’ll carry on with it. I’ve come to the confusion that conventional morals were invented by a lot of unattractive bitches to make themselves feel good.”

Laski balances two things well – a real investigation of what might confront a woman in Deborah’s position, and (I think I’m right in saying) some sort of satire. It feels like a parody of the Casanova type – there is a real treadmill of conquests – but the tone remains firmly realistic, never allowing hyperbole to creep in, or any laughter from the author. The mix works well, even if it ends up wrong-footing the reader a bit.

This isn’t as sophisticated as some of Laski’s novels, perhaps chiefly because it’s only really doing one thing. The plot, or even the scenario, is really the point of the novel – an exercise in examining one woman and her choices, rather than a more complex canvas. As such, it works very well at what it is trying to do, and shines a light on a part of the war that most 1940s fiction left in darkness, but it is not her most ambitious novel. But, for the parameters she sets, it is both very good and very intriguing.


Others who got Stuck into this Book:

“No matter where you stand on the issue of Deborah’s character, this is an absolutely fascinating, brilliantly written portrayal of a completely different side of wartime life” – Book Snob

“This is a very interesting book to compare to Laski’s other World War II title, Little Boy Lost.” – The Bookbinder’s Daughter

“And so I found another Marghanita Laski book that I could argue with while reading. She is so good at that!” – Fleur in Her World


6 thoughts on “To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

  • July 20, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve not got on too well with Laski in the past but I must admit that this one intrigues me. Brave, as you say, for her to turn the usual stereotypes around and have the woman being the immoral one. Mind you, I can’t blame her for being annoyed that her husband announced he was off to be unfaithful – whatever happened to restraint?? :)

  • July 20, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    Having just watched the Halycon series I think I will have to try To Bed… I think she is an under appreciated and awesome author. Her prose is faultless, effortless. I would put her far above Whipple, for instance and more in the EM Delafield level. Like Jane Austen she makes quite trenchant comments but they are so elegantly written, you almost don’t realise how piercing she is. By coincidence am 3/4 of the way through Love on the Supertax and have been meaning to ask you Simon about the illegal political activity that Sir Hugh Pokinghorn and Clarissa’s brother are up to. Using the Mitford sister biography Take Six Sisters as my sole source of British politics for that era, would I be right in thinking Sir Hugh and Co are facists, Nazi spys, or something in that vicinity?

  • July 20, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    I really enjoyed this book! Thanks so much for linking my review, Simon. Very much appreciated!

  • July 21, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    I remember feeling that Deborah deserved a bit more sympathy than I thought she got from Laski when I read this. Apparently the character was based on someone she knew (maybe more than one person?) and all I can really remember now is thinking that she seemed unfairly judgemental to someone who had read The Chamomile Lawn. I’d like to read it again.

  • July 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    This one really struck me at the time. I hadn’t heard much about it, so it was quite an unexpected turn-around and reminded me that Persephone wasn’t all Dorothy Whipple and Frances Hodgson Burnett (though I like those too)!


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