I greatly enjoy Rosamond Lehmann. She writes about the unspoken things in life; the passions, the disappointments, the fears, the loneliness, the jealousies, the delusions, the manipulations and machinations that go on behind closed doors. Apparently a lot of people wrote to Lehmann when her books came out, telling her that she had written their stories. This shows how she really does manage to articulate real life, as it is. She is unafraid to expose those things that make life less than satisfactory, and which most of us hide under a mask of illusionary conformity. This is just the sort of stuff I love, because as much as I like escapism, I also appreciate books that make me think about these deeper issues of what really constitutes life and happiness and satisfaction. Rosamond Lehmann never fails to make me sit and ponder awhile after reading her fantastic novels. She draws you in to her world and it is heady and intoxicating and unforgettable. I know of no writer she can be compared to.
So after that intro I am sorry to say that A Note in Music disappointed me just a little bit. It’s the only one of Lehmann’s novels that I have had to force myself to finish, which was not very nice as I like to be excited by what I’m reading. The main character, Grace Fairfax, was well drawn but I never really warmed to her or felt for her. Her friend Norah got more of my sympathy, but their unsatisfactory marriages and unrequited love for a young man, Hugh Miller, who comes into their lives briefly, are just not that interesting. Nothing really happens, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing; just read Dorothy Whipple to prove that point, but in A Note in Music something needs to happen because the plot just stagnates somewhere around the middle and I was left wondering what the point of this book was. I kept thinking something shocking was around the next page but it never happened. Talk about an anticlimax.
It’s very good at describing the claustrophobic world of women at home, at depicting the unattractive smoky boxes within which whole lives are lived out in city streets (hence the L.S.Lowry, I thought it illustrated Grace’s surroundings quite well), at expressing that feeling of hopelessness when the soul has promised more than our lives can give us, and how love can be both thrilling and lifegiving but also the most painful and hopeless emotion we can feel, at describing that sinking feeling of having had something and losing it, of wondering how we can ever go back to water when we have tasted wine…but at the same time it doesn’t have the rawness, the depth of emotion and involvement in the characters her other novels do. It was a good novel, but mediocre by Lehmann’s standards. I’m glad I read it, but disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it as I have done her other novels.
I would recommend The Echoing Grove as the best starting point for reading Lehmann. Then even if a couple of her novels later disappoint, at least you will know the greatness she was capable of.