On a trip to the United Kingdom, I passed through London from Devon before returning home to Paris. I stayed in the English countryside a few days at Urban Writers’ Retreat to focus on a few projects I wanted to advance. The retreat provided a prolific space, with meals enjoyed with intelligent and witty women. A professor I met on the retreat recommended a few London bookshops to visit—the top of her list being Persephone Books. Quickly disembarking the train in London, I hastily travelled to Russell Square.
The bookshop is part store, part publishing house. Moments after entering the store, I overheard discussions on Brexit, the looming recession, and climate change. Persephone Books soon won over my heart with their passion and active advocacy in challenging the current political atmosphere. The shop windows in fact were decorated with protest signs and newly released books.
The titles, authors and content published at Persephone Books are not usual bestsellers, but instead forgotten works by overlooked authors. Mostly female writers disregarded, misunderstood and under-appreciated by society at the time, with stories of reemergence, similar to writer’s Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française years later.
On the recommendation of the bookseller, I bought three books. The first title I read, To Bed With Grand Music, speaks on one woman’s affairs during World War II. Marghanita Laski’s novel met negative, sexist press—society after the war not wanting to burden returning soldiers and husbands with women’s personal lives at home. Wartime romance for men was regarded as something given and forgivable, however quite the opposite for women.
The protagonist in Laski’s novel, Deborah, bored in the English countryside taking care of the cottage and her newborn son, moves to London during the week to work, after receiving encouragement from her mother and her maid, Mrs. Chambers. Deborah with help of her friend Madeleine fills her personal time with glamorous restaurants, elegant hats and handsome men. Throughout the novel I both loved and hated Deborah, wanting like her mother for her to be happy. The author did not often employ metaphors or similes in her writing, but instead captivates readers with her extensive vocabulary. Overall, Laski’s story provides an alternative anthropology to wartime Britain—more complex than textbooks, films and literature led us to believe. If you decide to read this book, I would strongly recommend reading the prologue after finishing the story. The prologue contains plot spoilers, though offers interesting background information on the Laski.
To Bed With Grand Music is the first of three books I will review from Persephone Books. The sleek gray cover design, each book matching the stories before and after have me wanting to collect all Persephone Books. Inside, you will find a print from the time period, with a matching bookmark.