Invisible Ink: No 132 - Marghanita Laski
Sunday 15 July 2012
Church halls are great friends of forgotten authors. A rootle in the used-book stacks of St Giles-without-Cripplegate in London brought me to this novelist, journalist and panellist, born to a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals in Manchester in October 1915.
Rich early experience is often the key to wide-ranging interests, and so it proved with the beautiful Laski, who studied English at Oxford, worked in fashion and journalism, and married in Paris.
I imagine it would have been easy to slip into a life of comfort and privilege, but her thirst for knowledge and natural curiosity led to excellence in a number of fields. A voracious reader, she was a compulsive contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. She became the science fiction critic for The Observer, an active campaigner for nuclear disarmament, a panellist on What's My Line?, The Brains Trust and Any Questions?, and vice chairwoman of the Arts Council, as well as a biographer, novelist, playwright and short story writer.
Although she wrote literary histories of Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling and George Eliot, the volumes I found in St Giles were her fiction works. The Village is an unsentimental account of a couple separated by class in the Home Counties, and the shattering changes brought about by war and political change. Little Boy Lost tells of Hilary Wainwright, an English soldier, returning to a devastated France during the Second World War to trace the small boy who may be his son, lost five years before. Finding the child in a bleak orphanage, Hilary must consider the consequences of the reunion – what if the child is not his?
But it is a slender novel, The Victorian Chaise Longue, that haunted my night. Melanie, a young mother recovering from tuberculosis, is moved from her bed to a Victorian chaise longue she bought in a junk shop. Falling asleep, she awakes in another sickened body in an earlier time, surrounded by solicitous strangers. The sights and smells of the Victorian era are seen through Melanie's modern senses as she tries to understand her plight. The connecting bridge between the two eras of 1953 and the mid-1800s seems to be the chaise longue itself, but Melanie cannot return because her earlier failing body keeps her trapped in the chair, and she is equally held in place by the repression of the times. Eerie and disturbingly open to interpretation, the novel is a forgotten gem.
Fortunately, four Laski volumes have now been reprinted by Persephone Books.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview