“Beauty is a visitor, coming without warning, transforming for an hour, a day – sometimes for longer; crumbling at a breath, vanished again.”

I bought A Note in Music last year after reading Invitation to the Waltz , which I was instantly smitten with. I loved Lehmann’s unique writing style and knew that I wanted to explore more of her writing. Thanks to Florence and Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week I’ve been given the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Norah and Grace are quietly unhappy friends in 1930’s North England. When Hugh Miller, a young, vibrant, energetic man enters their lives he becomes a symbol of everything they feel is just out of reach in their own desperate homes. He epitomizes the freedom, spontaneity , beauty and energy that their own lackluster lives are in need of. They both fixate on him and build fantasies around their vision of who he is and what he represents. It’s true that Hugh and his sister Clare, with their youth and beauty, invigorate everyone whom they come in contact with, however Hugh is not all that the women imagine he is. Unsettled and with heartbreak in his past, Hugh has mastered the act of seeming joyful and untroubled while in his quiet moments he doubts himself and even contemplates suicide. But Norah and Grace never know him as a real person – he is only a representation of all that they want in the world and don’t have and his very presence causes them, especially Grace, to lose hope in the reality of day-to-day existence. When Hugh leaves town will his brief, shining spirit change them for the better or leave them bitter?

A Note in Music is a very melancholy novel, one that doesn’t offer many light or rosy moments for its readers. I found it easy to sympathize with the characters at first, for haven’t most of us felt trapped in the rut of commonplace life? I felt the excitement that Grace feels when Hugh is around, the romantic and positive mood that he ushers in to every situation and her despondency when she isn’t near him. But it began to wear – I wanted Grace to create delight in her own life instead of relying on an unsuspecting young man to generate it for her. And I wanted her to see the blessings that were all around her and to appreciate her good fortune. Her only solace comes from nature and Lehmann perfectly describes the trees, flowers and plants that give Grace comfort.

As I read I was struck by the similarities between Lehmann and the writing of D.H. Lawrence. They both philosophize quite a bit and use veiled, elaborate sentences to convey their message which doesn’t come through (to me anyway) very easily. They also both excel at creating characters who frustrate and bewilder and at striving for understanding that seems just beyond the reach of the characters and the reader.

Though I didn’t like this novel as much as I liked Invitation to the Waltz I am happy I read it. Lehmann is a wonderful writer and has a genius for channeling the subtleties of human emotions and relationships that is staunchly believable.

Did you read a Rosamond Lehmann novel for RLRW?

Go here for inspiration that helps me not to be like Grace.

6 Comments

  1. This isn’t an author I know at all, even her name is unfamiliar – so I’ve been looking forward to the reading week to learn more about her books.

    • I only learned about her last year after reading a review of one of her books on a blog. I read somewhere this week that she’s in the same group with Jean Rhys, Betty Miller, Elizabeth Bowen and Stella Gibbons. She didn’t write very many books, but I think they are all worth reading if you like pre-WWII middlebrow novels.

  2. I haven’t read her and would like to. It sounds like you enjoyed “An Invitation to the Waltz.” I will try to find that one. It’s wonderful that you are participating in this reading challenge!

  3. Interesting review, Anbolyn!
    We have many of the same views on A Note in Music – it is a rather frustrating book, because Grace is so apathetic and because its atmosphere is so dreary (except for Grace’s short holiday in the country). One can’t read it with quite as much pleasure as Dusty Answer or Invitation to the Waltz. But the writing is exquisite! I’ll be posting about A Note in Music today, and I’ll be sure to link back to your review.

    • Thanks, Florence! I did find it dreary, but something about Lehmann’s writing keeps me forging ahead. It always seems like there will be a light at the end of the tunnel with her books.

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