Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (Persephone Reading Weekend Book 1)

“We have thought for years in terms of movements and groups,” she said, “never of individuals. We have accepted the judgment of groups and we have subordinated our morality to them.” And she said, “I know now that that was wrong. The only good thing we can do, the only goodness we can be sure of, is our own goodness as individuals and the good that we can do individually. As groups we often do evil that good may come and very often the good does not come and all that is left is the evil we have pointlessly done.”

I was so afraid as I neared the end of Little Boy Lost that when I finally came to the conclusion, I wept.

“What?!” asked my husband. “What?” He was quite alarmed, and I was surprised myself, that a book should make me cry.

There are so many ways of being lost, especially when it comes to children. The eight year old students in my class often write with vivid description the times that they were separated from their parents, in a Target store, perhaps, or the local market.

But, Hilary has truly lost his son. When his wife, Lisa, gave their baby boy to her friend, Jeanne, before the Gestapo came for her, Jeanne in turn gave the baby to a curé for its safety. No one knew for sure where the baby was when Hilary accepts the help of Philip to find him.

The search takes Hilary to a desolate town in France, to the local convent, where a little, ragged boy, with red hands, huge eyes, and clothes which do not fit, lives. Hilary is not sure throughout the novel if the boy is indeed his, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if they are related by blood or not. For, in his own way, each is a lost boy.

“No monsieur, I am sure that either this is your son, or that your son is beyond human reach. ‘And since I am assured that he would be brought up in the faith, I should be very content if you wished to recognise this child as yours.”

“Why?” asked Hilary sharply, “Why are you so anxious that I should take him?”

She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, “There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.”

In this incredibly moving novel, Laski explores not only the relationship between father and son, but also that between tenderness and selfishness. She shows us the power we have as individuals for doing good, and in so doing, to redeem not only others but ourselves. I loved it with all my heart.

I have now read all three of Marghanita Laski’s novels: To Bed With Grand Music, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, and Little Boy Lost. The later is by far my favorite, for not only its story, but its message; something I’m always searching for in what I read. The Victorian Chaise-Longue was a wonderful, mind-bending book, which still terrifies me when I recall it. What a pleasure it has been to read these three very different novels by the same author; a special thanks to Persephone books for making them available, and to Claire and Verity for hosting this reading weekend.

The Victorian Chaise Longue

What did I say, she asked herself when the effort had been made, something about machines that fly, or was it aeronautic machines? Wireless, she screamed in her mind, television, penicillin, gramophone-records and vaccum-cleaners, but none of these words could be framed by her lips. I can think them, why can’t I say them? she begged; can I introduce nothing into this real past?–and if I cannot, then even these thoughts I am thinking, has Milly thought them before? But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is still to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape-and the eternal prison she imagined consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss. 

What is frightening? Not the typical lore of Halloween: ghosts, goblins, ghouls.

To me, what is most frightening is real life gone awry. Just a little twist, a little tweak, a little shade off center. We experience this in those dreams from which we cannot run away fast enough. We cannot scream loudly enough for someone to hear us. We cannot wake up from a nightmare which appears to be reality.

In The Victorian Chaise Longue, Melanie Langdon, who is recovering not only from the birth of her baby but from a terrible disease which troubles her lungs, decides to rest on the Victorian chaise longue she bought in an antique store. It is upholstered in red wool and tapestry, a sturdy and comfortable piece of furniture which appears to be the perfect thing for her to lie upon.

Only, it isn’t.

When she wakes, it is not to any life she knows. It is to inhabit the body of Milly Baines, also suffering from consumption, in 1864. In a kind of virtual time travel, Melly experiences Milly’s life, which weaves in and out of similarity to her own. No one believes her when she tells them who she really is, nor when she tells the doctor how she could recover with fresh air and sunlight. She is trapped within her own life and another’s, the two of which are difficult to separate. Even if she could.

This was an immensely satisfying read of pure terror and suspense. It reminds me too closely of dreams and experiences I’ve suffered in which I’ve wondered, “What if this is my real life, and what I thought was real is not?” I read it for Carl’s RIP V, and I highly recommend it for you.

Find other reviews from Nymeth, Claire, Tracey, Novel Insights, and Isabella.

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

I was very much in love with Graham when I married him, conceded Deborah, who was determined not to be one of those low girls who denied a love as soon as it was over, but there’s no reason why the person who suited you at twenty should still be the right person for you at twenty-five when you’ve both developed and changed and in different directions too. (p. 129)

War must throw so many things awry. I’ve always read of the atrocities committed to women, but I’ve never considered the ways that women must have combatted war themselves. Instead of focusing on the honor, and the hard work, and the buck up kind of attitude I’ve been taught that women felt during war, To Bed With Grand Music shows us an entirely different point of view.

Deborah’s husband leaves for war, with an admonition that he may not be faithful physically, but it won’t change a thing between them emotionally. Soon afterward, she leaves her country cottage for the excitement of London, leaves her son in charge of the housekeeper, and leaves her devotion to her husband behind with each fresh dalliance she encounters.

Swathed in furs and jewels bestowed by her admirers, enjoying dances and dinners rather than tins of beans, Deborah indeed goes to bed. With man, after man, after man. It seems she will never get out of it again, for how can lives be repaired when war has irrevocably divided them?

My thanks to Persephone Books for publishing these thought provoking works, as well as Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of The B Files for hosting this week. Oh, that it was longer…