From the daring (for the 1940s) opening sentence in which a couple are in bed together, this is an enjoyable and believable book. A beautiful, happily married young woman whose husband is sent out to the Middle East during WW2, finds country life boring and so takes up a job offer and flat share in London. Almost by default she becomes involved in the casual world of one night stands, affairs, the world of the mistress...It all rings very true, very honest. And it's a riveting read.
Fascinating - as this was published (under a pseudonym) in 1946, immediately after the war, and presumably for some contemporary readers would have rung all too true. It is the antidote to all those stories about plucky little women making do and mending and keeping the home fires burning. As another reviewer points out, it is reminiscent of Noel Streatfeild's enormously readable Saplings; it also reminded me of the rackety life led by Mary Wesley and reflected in her novels. This is a story about wartime sex and promiscuity and the effects of war on a marriage. Deborah is rather a shallow young woman and her marriage to Graham is conventionally second-rate; and yet, but for the war, convention would have bonded them more or less happily into a family. But when Graham is posted abroad, Deborah is all too easily allured by the gay life of wartime London, the easy charm of presents and silk stockings and dancing with men who are similarly at a loose end. She isn't a likeable character; but her moral reasoning is often very amusing. As ever, Marghanita Laski is a brilliant writer of character (Deborah's respectable northern mother is a tour de force). We can sympathise with Deborah even as we disapprove of her behaviour; war has thrown her into circumstances that encourage the worst in her. (And don't forget that, in the first few pages, Graham is established as equally shallow and morally lightweight ... so we shouldn't judge Deborah more harshly just because she is female.) If you've enjoyed this do read Laski's Little Boy Lost - one of the best books I have ever read about the aftermath of the war.
If you don't object to reading a book about a woman who is a total moral vacuum, and pretty much utterly unsympathetic, this is a wonderful book. It is beautifully written, too convincingly real and opens up for us a world which is hinted at off screen in other war novels (eg in The Cruel Sea). This is the world where women who might otherwise have found a limited happiness in home and hearth drift away from these duties without their husband to anchor them, and take up residence in the hectic gaiety of wartime socialising, unaware that they are writing their own tragedies. The antiheroine of this book starts the novel as frail, self centred and emotionally shallow to a degree (common faults enough - and one is put in mind of the mother in "Saplings"), but by sheer exercise of her own choices she transforms herself into a woman with no moral compass at all, and no real understanding of joy or even pleasure, who is destined to unhappiness when her husband returns (the scene when he writes suggesting some gaiety at a hotel which has become, to her, desperately suburban is a hoot!)
Wonderful, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I can imagine how shocking it must have seemed to readers back in 1946. A young wife and mother left behind in the country with her young son while her husband is sent abroad on war work becomes bored and feels she is stagnating stuck in the middle of nowhere. Deborah, the young wife in question, decides she wants more from life and throws caution to the winds, and through various encounters with men from various walks of life - some contrived - becomes what can only be described as an upper class prostitute. From factual accounts of life during the Second World War it is only too obvious that this sort of thing went on, and whilst it was deemed OK for men to have their fling, it was deemed entirely different for women.
To Bed With Grand Music is a very different view of the war to the stiff upper lip of Vere Hodgson & the nobility of Cressida in A House In The Country. Deborah & Graham tearfully say goodbye before he's posted overseas. He doesn't promise to be faithful to her but says he would never let another woman replace her in his heart. Deborah is living in a country village with their son, Timmy, & faithful housekeeper, Mrs Chalmers. Deborah is very young & soon finds village life too constricting. She gets a job in London, moves in with Madeleine, a sophisticated friend from student days, & swears fidelity to Graham, spending her evenings alone in the flat while Madeleine goes out with a succession of men. When Deborah meets Joe, an American Lieutenant, she begins an affair with him in a glow of romantic feelings. She still feels loyal to Graham, & Joe is loyal in his way to his own wife, but Deborah realises that she's becoming frustrated & bored with her life & she gradually succumbs to the little luxuries Joe can provide. When he's posted overseas, Deborah is sure she'll never have another affair, but soon she's going out with Sheldon Z Wynuck, another American officer, but a step down in class & sophistication from Joe. Then, she meets a suave Frenchman who teaches her, at her request, how to be a good mistress. Then there's a Brazilian & a friend of her husband's who looks her up when he's on leave... Deborah's moral sense has completely abandoned her by this time. She has also virtually abandoned Timmy, who is looked after by Mrs Chalmers & hardly sees his mother. Deborah's own mother, Mrs Betts, has abandoned her daughter to her fate by this time, only intent on seeing that her grandson is cared for. Mrs Betts's attitude to Deborah struck me as quite unfeeling. She's only in her early twenties at the beginning of the war but her mother does very little to guide her when she realises how her daughter is living in London. Mrs Betts allows Deborah to rationalise her desire to leave Timmy because she sees that he's happier with the housekeeper than with his moody mother. She seems to blame Deborah's dead father for this tendency to lax morals & washes her hands of her, apart from paying her debts at one point. The ending of the book is ambiguous. The war has ended, Graham will be coming home, but will their marriage survive? I find it fascinating that the book was published so soon after the war (1946). It wasn't well-reviewed & it's easy to see why. The picture it paints of women living the high life while their men were serving overseas is not the image Britain wanted to see. Deborah is selfish, self-seeking & predatory by the end of the book, but I have some sympathy for her. Left alone with a small child while her husband has a cushy posting in Egypt, no support from her mother, few friends & no inner resources to fall back on, it's not surprising to see her downward progress.