I am so delighted that it is finally fall and the temperatures are getting cooler and the NFL season has begun here in the U.S. I am a huge New York Giants fan and I am hoping for a stellar year. Speaking of sports, this is another interesting Persephone title, the plot of which involves a woman using sex as a game while her husband is away at war.
I thought that the first scene in this book was quite shocking, but as it turns out the subject matter of the entire book is rather bold. Deborah is in bed with her husband, Graham, who is about to leave for the middle east where he will be stationed during World War II. Graham informs her that there is no way he can be expected to be faithful to her for the duration of the war. Graham also gives Deborah permission to have a dalliance of her own since he will be away for so long. I couldn’t decide what was more shocking: his declaration of intended unfaithfulness or his suggestion that his wife have an affair as well.
Deborah is the type of woman who needs a man to complete her identity. When she is left alone with her three-year-old son and her housekeeper she thinks she will go crazy from the boredom and the monotony. Deborah’s mother suggests that she get a job to help pass the time until the war is over. Deborah eventually finds a job in London as a clerk and it is also in London that she has her first indiscretion with a man. The first one night stand disgusts her and she runs off in shame, but she quickly changes her mind and her attitude towards having extramarital affairs.
Deborah eventually comes to the conclusion that it is acceptable to have lovers while her husband is gone so that she isn’t lonely. The first prolonged affair that she has is with an officer named Joe who lavishes attention on Deborah and even gets along well with her son. When Joe is sent to the frontlines Deborah takes on yet another lover.
The rest of the novel is an account of Deborah’s string of lovers. Some of the book is very funny, especially when she finds ridiculous reasons to dump one man and move on to the next. One of her lovers gets along very well with Deborah’s mother and Deborah is extremely irked by this. So she casts him off and moves on to the next soldier. Many of Deborah’s lovers provide her with lavish gifts, jewelry, expense differs and clothes. Deborah is not a sympathetic characters since she is taking advantage of the situation of war to have a series of affairs which are all to her emotional and material benefit.
One part of the book that I found particularly sad is the fact that Deborah cannot bring herself to move back home and take care of her son. The little boy craves his mother’s attention and the scenes in which she leaves him to go off to London with one of her many lovers is pathetic. The boy becomes more and more attached to his nanny and we wonder whether or not his mother’s abandonment will have a lasting effect on his life.
This is a very interesting book to compare to Laski’s other World War II title, Little Boy Lost. Both books bring up a very different side of the war that are somewhat controversial. And children do not fair well in the lives of adults in either book. If I found the subject matter of this book bold then I wonder what the reaction to it was in 1946 when it was originally published.
Lanksi was to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.
A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.
An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.