The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski was first published in 1953 but my copy is a Persephone which was published in 1999, it has a preface by P.D.James. It’s a bit of a creepy tale in parts but I enjoyed it.

Melanie is a a pampered young mother, adored by her husband Guy, she has led an easy life but she now has a health problem and fears that she might die. She has tuberculosis and her baby son is being kept away from her while she recovers, but Melanie can’t help fearing that she may not recover, but it’s 1950s London and her doctor expects her to make a full recovery.

Before she had her son she had been mooching around an antique shop looking for the perfect crib for her baby, but it was an old Victorian chaise-longue that called to her to buy it, despite it being rather large and ugly, she was drawn to the Berlin woolwork rose design upholstery although it is a bit stained.

When Melanie’s doctor allows her to leave her bedroom for a change of scene she moves to the drawing room, the chaise-longue is seen as the ideal place for her to rest, and so begins her nightmare. When she wakes up after having a nap Melanie thinks she may still be asleep. Her clothes are different and there’s a strange woman in the room, Adelaide is a cruel and nasty woman who calls her Milly. She’s still on the chaise-longue but it’s in a different room – a real Victorian room – and she still has tuberculosis, a death sentence in Victorian times, and Adelaide seems intent on hounding her to death.

This is a very quick read at just 99 pages, it’s not a comfortable read but it gives you plenty to think about. I have my suspicions about how that stain got there!

Book Purchases in Edinburgh

There was a big book-shaped void in my life due to the shops being closed for what seemed like forever, and despite buying some books online it just wasn’t the same as going into actual shops and browsing the shelves. No book smell – no serendipity – no book chat with like-minded people. Book buying online is fairly soulless.

Anyway a trip to Edinburgh one day last week went some way to filling that gap as you can see. I had a lovely time even although we had to hang about outside the shops waiting for people to come out before we could go in due to the shops being fairly small.

Books Again

The House of the Pelican by Elisabeth Kyle (1954)
Thursbitch by Alan Garner (2004)
Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron (1945)
The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron (1941)
Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann (1927)
The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)
The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff (1956)

Not a bad haul I think you’ll agree, they’re all by authors that I’ve read before and enjoyed – except for The House of the Pelican. I don’t even think I had ever heard of Elisabeth Kyle before, but the setting of the Edinburgh Festival appealed to me so I started that one almost immediately and so far – so very good.

Have you read any of these books?

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

To Bed with Grand Music cover

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski was first published in 1945. It’s a very unusual book, for me anyway because although there aren’t really any likeable characters, it still manages to be a great read. Normally that’s a state of affairs that really puts me off a book as I want to be in the company of people that I would be happy to have as friends in real life.

The book begins with Graham and Deborah Robertson in bed, Graham is in the army and he’s about to leave for Egypt. Deborah is miserable at the thought of being without him and she desperately tries to get him to promise to be faithful to her, no matter how long they are apart. Graham is unwilling to give promises that he feels he may not be able to keep, but he does promise that he will never form any relationships with any other women. In other words it would be ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am’. Deborah has to be satisfied with that but she swears she will never look at another man.

Deborah’s mother Mrs Betts knows her daughter too well though and when she sees that Deborah is taking out her frustrations on her young son Timmy, the grandmother in her puts the child’s interests to the fore. Mrs Betts tells her daughter that she believes there are fundamentally two types of women in the world, the mother type and – the wife type. She hesitated over the second epithet, unable to say the word that was really in her mind. Basically Mrs Betts knows that her daughter can’t live without a man in her life, she is completely self-centred and is uninterested in Timmy.

The upshot is that Mrs Betts is able to manipulate Deborah very easily, Deborah jumps at her hints that she might be better getting some sort of war work and leaving Timmy’s upbringing to Mrs Chalmers who is her housekeeper. A local job is not good enough for Deborah though, once she has made up her mind to do war work it’s only London that she’s interested in and she moves into her old friend Madeleine’s flat and Mady helps her to get a job.

But Mady has a bit of a reputation and Deborah knows that Graham wouldn’t be happy about her living with Mady, so she keeps quiet about that and so begins a life of deception. In no time Deborah is being wined and dined every night in posh hotels and clubs. London was jumping during the war, especially if you had money. People lived life to the utmost, knowing that they could be dead at any minute.

Deborah has turned into a ‘good time gal‘ and she is having a great time, manipulating men who are happy to pay her in designer clothes and jewels, allowing her to feel that she is doing nothing wrong, after all she’s not accepting any money. She is handed from man to man, as they are called away to various different spheres of the war. Deborah is briefly appalled at her own behaviour but in no time she is able to justify everything that she is doing. Anything is acceptable if it means that she gets all the material things she wants and is kept entertained by well off men.

She’s a snob and a social climber, in fact she married Graham mainly because she thought his family was wealthier than they actually were. She dreams of divorcing Graham and getting married to one of her gentlemen friends, she has no inkling that the fact that she sleeps with them as soon as she is introduced to them means that she would be seen as completely inappropriate as a wife. In fact, she quickly ends up going way down the social scale.

Meantime of course, Mrs Chalmers the housekeeper is looking after Timmy without so much as one day off in all that time.

So you see what I mean about there being no likeable characters, unless you count Mrs Chalmers who is genuinely very fond of Timmy. Mrs Betts set her daughter onto that path in London, knowing exactly what would happen, she knew her daughter took after Mr Betts whom she had had trouble with early on in their marriage! Still, it’s a really enjoyable book.

I believe that To Bed with Grand Music was reprinted by Persephone books but I borrowed a large print copy from my library, which was published by Isis.That word seems to pop up everywhere, and it used to have such pleasant connotations.

If you mooch around second-hand bookshops you might find a copy of the book with the author named Sarah Russell, the name she originally wrote it under. Possibly this book was seen as being a bit much at the time of its publication, the complete opposite of the sorts of books that kept people going in times of war, light and uplifting tales where women were selfless and uncomplaining, but I’m sure that for a lot of people it was more realistic, perhaps too realistic for some to contemplate.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski was first published in 1949 but it has been republished by Persephone Books.

Hilary Wainwright had been married to a French woman, Lisa and they were living in France with their baby son John, unfortunately Hilary had to leave his wife and son in France as they weren’t well enough to flee when the Germans invaded France. Hilary only received a few letters from his wife after that and he has no idea what has happened to them. Lisa had been working for an escape organisation helping British servicemen.

In 1943 a Frenchman tells Hilary that Lisa is dead, having been rounded up by the Gestapo, but his son may still be alive, and after the war Hilary tries to track John down, but in a Europe full of displaced and orphaned children it’s a huge task, and he has no idea what his son would look like. He’s not even sure if he wants to track him down, he’s planning to marry again and a young son by a dead wife wasn’t in his plans.

This was a great read with a main character who is anything but perfect but is completely believable and understandable. The book also gives an authentic view of France and the French as they struggled in a post war society with little to live on and memories of who did what with whom during the German occupation.

The Village by Marghanita Laski

The Village cover

This is the first book by Marghanita Laski which I’ve read but I’ll definitely be reading more in the future. It was first published in 1952 and my copy is one of the books which I stumbled upon recently in one of those bookshops in Edinburgh which I didn’t even know existed, close by the east gate of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. It’s not a Persephone, it’s one of those Companion Book Club publications, just in case you’re interested in such things.

The story begins the night World War II ended. The inhabitants of the village of Priory Dean aren’t quite sure what they should be doing now that there is no need to worry about air raids and casualties of war. They’ve been dancing in the streets and the whole place is practically unrecognisable as they can actually see now that there’s no blackout.

Mrs Trevor and Mrs Wilson come to the same decision separately and so both take themselves off to their usual destination – the Village Hall where they would normally be on Red Cross duty, each of them dressed in the Red Cross uniform. They had always liked each other but they were from entirely different backgrounds and in fact Mrs Wilson had been a ‘domestic’ for Mrs Trevor in the past.

They have a lot in common really, their families are uppermost in their thoughts but Mrs Trevor is seen as one of the upper class families and lives in a large house while Mrs Wilson lives in Station Road which is a very much poorer part of the village.

A sense of ‘class’ stops them from being friends and when a romance springs up between their grown-up children – Margaret Trevor and Roy Wilson – the Trevors are appalled at the thought of their eldest daughter having anything to do with the Wilsons. But Roy Wilson had been a sergeant in the army and is determined that things are going to be different now that he’s in civvy street and earning very good money as a printer. As far as he’s concerned the forelock tugging days are over.

This is an entertaining and at times quite comical read. I saw a comment on a blog recently to the effect that all English novels were about class, it made me laugh but I did think that it was a wee bit unfair, because ‘class’ is a universal thing. Think of Mark Twain and Louisa M. Alcott. To Kill a Mockingbird is as much about class as it is about racism. I’ve always found Germans to be much more concerned about class than Brits are and every Polish person I’ve ever known has claimed to be of aristocratic blood!

So yes it is about class and the fact that Margaret Trevor has ‘no sense of class’ despite the fact that she is supposed to be from one of the ‘better’ families. She was the heroine of the story, unloved and taken for granted by her snobbish family, she rose above it all whilst they thought she was marrying down.

The world of Priory Dean seemed so familiar to me, in the 1970s, when I was young, there were still some dinosaur types around who thought they were better than everyone else but were penniless and up to their eyes in debt. Have they all shuffled off now? I hope so but you can never be quite sure.

Edinburgh Book Haul

You might know that I went to Hay-on-Wye (that famous book town) recently and was quite disappointed with the place, I didn’t manage to find any books which I wanted to buy.

So it was a lovely surprise when we came out the east gate of the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, to discover second-hand bookshops which were completely unknown to me. We hadn’t been in that area of Edinburgh before, I think it is called Broughton Road.

Edinburgh Book Haul

As you can see, I bought four:
Silence Observed by Michael Innes
The New Sonia Wayward by Michael Innes
The Village by Marghanita Laski
The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier

I was especially chuffed to find the du Maurier book in a shop which is part bookshop and part antiques shop. I would have bought it anyway but it’s particularly nice that it’s a signed copy, as you can see. It was very reasonably priced too.


I always get my best book finds when I least expect to. I could have bought quite a few more books but I exercised restraint and of course I now wish I hadn’t. Luckily, Edinburgh isn’t very far away!