Wednesday, January 27, 2010
To Bed with Grand Music
When Vera Lynn was singing 'We'll meet again...', it would have touched the hearts of many a young woman during WWII. Deborah Robertson would not have been one of those women. The image we usually have of women whose husbands are away at war is one of housework, queuing for rations, chats over the wall and knitting while listening to the wireless. Marghanita Laski does a fantastic job of showing us that there were women who chose to spend their time engaged in other pursuits. Leaving her young son, Timmy, with the housekeeper, Deborah sets off for London to look up a friend named Madeleine. After some inquiries and decisions are made, the two women are sharing a flat. Staying in at night with their hair in rollers and eating beans on toast is not for these two. Madeleine has a steady stream of male friends taking her out to dinner and it's not long before Deborah is joining in, after all, a girl has to eat doesn't she? Drinks follow dinner and then it's sex. Being faithful while apart is something that Graham said was unlikely, I'm not going to promise you I'll be physically faithful to you, because I don't want to make you any promise I may not be able to keep'. Social mores of the time implied that women would absolutely be faithful lest they be labeled by the proverbial scarlet letter. At first, Deborah is shocked by her behaviour and swears to herself that it won't happen again. But it does...over and over with a string of men. Soon she becomes skilled at saying and doing all the things her lovers want to acquire perfume, furs, jewellery, shoes and handbags. At her core, Deborah is selfish so she justifies her actions with ease and any guilt is fleeting. During an air raid, I desperately wanted a bomb to drop on the very table she was dining at with her latest companion! This is where I thoroughly admire Laski's writing, she was able to have me despise the main character and still love the book. I haven't hated a character so much since Louise from Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. Even though this is a story about men, women and sex during the war, it's so far removed from being romanticized. Turning the last few pages, I wondered how this was all going to end...I was gobsmacked, Laski has a brilliant way with an ending. Just as in Little Boy Lost, you read the last few lines and then stare at the page in disbelief. This is not one of those books that will have you hugging it to your chest as you close the cover, more likely you'll want to fling it across the room! But only because Laski has executed the characterization so well as to bring forth such visceral emotion. This one has me wishing that I could sit in on another book chat at Persephone, I would love to hear Nicola's thoughts on everything about it. So if she does offer one, could someone please attend and let me know what she has to say?