Monday 10 January 2011

At Laski

If you're familiar with Stuck-in-a-Book and my reading habits, you'll know that it usually takes a while for books to work their way up the tbr pile. Understanding friends are very kind, and don't complain, but Hayley (also known as Desperate Reader) will be pleased to finally read my thoughts on the book she very generously bestowed upon me: Love on the Supertax by Marghanita Laski. Truth be told, it might have been a loan originally, but Hayley sweetly said I could keep it. Crime does pay, it turns out.

Marghanita Laski is a name a lot of us know, and a lot more people encountered her through Persephone Books, who publish her novels The Village, Little Boy Lost, To Bed With Grand Music, and The Victorian Chaise-Longue. I've read the second and fourth of those, and haven't quite been able to put my finger on what it is that defines Laski - those novels had little in common, and Love on the Supertax throws another tone into the mix, leaving me very satisfied, but rather confused.

Love on the Supertax (1944) is Laski's first novel, and is a very amusing romp through the battle of the classes, and the eternal question of whether romance can flourish between people of different classes. This has been a theme in the English novel from Richardson's Pamela onwards. But I don't recall it being done in the way Laski does... in that Clarissa is desperate to leave her privileged background and become part of the socialist working-class. Yes, you're thinking, we've been here before with Lady Chatterley, and still aren't sure we want our wives and servants reading it. Well, fear not; there is no sense of Clarissa getting a thrill from dabbling below her class - instead, Sid feels he is wandering below his. For it is accepted by all that he would be marrying below himself, if uniting himself with posh Clarissa - not the other way around.

A fairly simple start for a satire, perhaps, but it works so well. The scene where Sid introduces Clarissa to his parents is hilarious - her wafer-thin slices of bread don't go down well. Here's another taster, to give you the idea:
"No," said Sid Baker. "I think you're a good deal too much influenced by superficial differences, and that you attach too much importance to heredity. Personally, I think environment is far too influential. I'd guarantee that if you took an aristocrat's child at birth and placed it in a working-class home with all the environmental advantages that would entail, that child at twenty-one would be indistinguishable from me."
I loved Love on the Supertax, and it adds another string to Laski's complex bow, for it is again so unlike the other Laski novels I've read. A quick read, it has charm and wit - and although I daresay it was motivated by a serious point, Laski has the writerly wisdom not to over-emphasise any social critique. Instead, this is a tongue-in-cheek and very amusing novella casting an unusual view on 1940s England. Thanks, Hayley!

Things to get Stuck into

Economy Must Be Our Watchword - Joyce Dennys: I feel a bit guilty suggesting this, since it is more or less impossible to find, but Dennys' tale of a selfish and unself-aware (or self-unaware??) woman trying to economise is so, so very hilarious.


  1. You've got my interest piqued as usual. I haven't read any Laski yet, but I found a copy of Little Boy Lost in a Half-Price bookstore over here (a rare find indeed!) this fall and I've got it queued up for the Persephone reading week in February. (February used to sound like such a long way off!) Thanks for the review - have a great week.

  2. I keep hoping I'm going to trip over this in a charity shop some day!

  3. Susan - oh, well done, good find! I remember being very impressed, but when I went back and read my review the other day, I realised I didn't remember anything about the book... I wasn't even sure if I'd read it... weird!

    Mary - fingers crossed! Serendipitous finds are always the best.

  4. Hmmm, good to read your review Simon, and for the title alone you deserve that book. I found it second hand and have seen copies since so it's not impossible to pick up. I remember finding it funny, but not that funny, and maybe over complicated for what I thought was going to be a light hearted satire (though that's probably a good rather than bad thing). I think it's found a better home now.

  5. Love the title of your post Simon:) I have To Bed with Grand Music which I got from my Persephone Santa Claire which I'm looking forward to reading. Then maybe I'll try and hunt down more of her books. I don't think I've seen many in secondhand bookshops but then maybe I wasn't concentrating! It was great to see you last weekend, by the way!

  6. This reminds me an awful lot of a book by Margit Soderholm, I think it is called "The Parson's Daugther". It is about the daugther of a country parson who marries a farmer - though she is above him in social class, the other farmers' viwes avoid her because they feel that she does not have what it take to become part of their class/society.
    I think I will give Laski a try, have never read anything by her. Thanks again for inspiring me Simon :-)

  7. I found a copy of this years ago and didn't buy it, which I now regret. Such is life! Laski seems to be a bit of a chameleon, and the two books of hers I've read couldn't have been more different. When I eventually return to my book collection, I have The Village to read, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that compares.

  8. I have given up trying to find Laski! Just wait for your reviews. I think I will follow Mary to an op shop/second hand book shop!!!

  9. You do deserve full marks for the title of this post. Although I was kind of hoping that Hayley would chime in and and say "What? I never gave you that book..." And then we would see a literary blogger fight, maybe some court proceedings...

  10. I'm intrigued! I loved 'Little Boy Lost' and want more of Marghanita (name of my firstborn daughter). Can I "borrow" it from you?

  11. Hayley - thanks so much, again, for this book! I'm sorry you didn't like it as much as I did, though. And glad you liked the title ;) We'll have to postpone that fight Thomas is gunning for.

    Sakura - Lovely to see you the other day! I see a fair few copies of the Penguin 'Little Boy Lost', but not many other Laskis. I don't think I've seen this one before... or even heard of it, actually, until Hayley lent (ahem) it to me...

    Willa - ooo, not heard of that, thanks for the tip... I hope you have luck tracking down Laski.

    Rachel - what a shame! I hate it when that happens - hence my oh-so-sensible technique of buying everything I might one day want... And I definitely agree - the three Laski novels I've read have been so different, and I'm intrigued by The Village (also on my shelves)

    Mystica - happy hunting!

    Thomas - sorry to disappoint ;) I do feel a bit of a fraud - 3.5 years of blogging, and I've never engaged in flaming?! What's wrong with me?

    Daniel - haha, if only you lived close by, you'd be very welcome... (I do tend to lend people books and immediately forget I've done so, so I depend entirely upon their honesty.)

  12. Almost two years to the day, Simon! I've just come across 1p copy and previously when I've looked it's been at least £60 on Amazon. I'd completely forgotten about your post and my earlier comment but, having ordered it, was googling to see if there were any reviews.
    Everything turns up if you're patient!


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