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24/08/2009

The Victorian Chaise Longue - Marghanita Laski


This was the first Persephone book that I've read, and it was a fabulous introduction. I read this book in one sitting (nearly), which isn't as impressive as it sounds because (a) the book is very slim, and (b) I could not have put the book down midway for anything short of a nuclear holocaust.

The Victorian Chaise Longue is the story of Melanie Langdon, a spoilt upper-class woman who has recently had a baby and is also recovering from tuberculosis which she contracted very early in the pregnancy. The obviously sad situation did not evoke any sympathy in me because of Melanie's flippant and flirtatious attitude. But this attitude is central to the character; the others mollycoddle her like a precocious child. For the first time in months, Melanie is allowed to leave her bedroom and rest on her as-yet-unused chaise-longue, where she falls asleep and....

....wakes up in Victorian England! Yes, that's how sudden and shocking the time-shift is. No blinding light, or spinning Tardis. Just a woman waking up in a time not her own. And that's when the terror starts. Melanie is now Milly, who also suffers from tuberculosis and has recently gone through a terrible experience, the details of which are revealed in the final pages.

The horror of being trapped in a body not your own, in a time not your own, surrounded by people you don't recognise is the stuff of nightmares. Laski has evoked the fear that Melanie experiences superbly. Of course, in a world that has read Stephen King and Dean Koontz, this book will be tame, but it must have been terrifying in the 1950s when it was originally printed.

Adelaide said wearily, '[It is] the twenty-second of April, eigheen hundred and sixtyfour.'

For an instant, for ever, Melanie was bound in timeless fear. Her eyes were forced open, rigid and unblinking, her mouth hung open, the rigid lips stretched in a terrible grin, all her being was rigid with unimaginable terror...only from her mouth there came incoherent dribbling whimperings.

The ending is ambiguous, and I liked it that way. What was more important was Melanie’s realisation that she and Milly are more than just superficially similar, what is different is how society views them.

10 comments:

StuckInABook said...

I read this book in one sitting too, about a year ago. Loved it! I don't actually have my own copy yet, I read it in the library, but I definitely think it would bear re-reading.

claire said...

I love the endpaper to this but am afraid it might be too horrific for me. I'd love to read Laski's Little Boy Lost though.

I asked Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot this same question, because you read the same book today: How would you rate this on a horror scale, from 1 to 10?

I'm reading my first Persephone, too, which is the exact opposite of yours, as it's very fun and light (Miss Pettigrew). Happy Persephone week!

verity said...

This is one I haven't yet read, but sounds fantastic. Thanks for revieiwing!

farmlanebooks said...

I read it in one sitting too! It didn't take long to read though.

I'd be interested in how you rate this on a horror scale too - I didn't find it scary at all. I'd only rate it as 2/10.

Paperback Reader said...

Like Simon, I read it about a year ago and definitely think it bears re-reading. It is such a quick but compelling read.
I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

Nymeth said...

I found the evocation of the fear Melanie was experiencing very impressive too.

Green Road said...

Simon, it's a classic one-sitting book isn't it? I can see myself picking it up in the future in between books.

Claire, that's a difficult one. I've read so many Stephen King and Dean Koontz that this really isn't scary in comparison. But if I let myself connect with Melanie and imagine the situation then yes it's creepy. It depends entirely on me connecting with Melanie/Milly.
Mmm, I'd say 3/5.

Green Road said...

Jackie, I just read your review, and like I said in your comments, I can see how someone might find it funny. I think perhaps we've seen and read far scarier stuff now and the book hasn't travelled through time too well (ouch, that joke was worse than I thought it would be!)

Claire, quick and compelling is correct!

Nymeth, it was that feeling of being trapped that impressed me most about the book. Poor Melanie!

claire said...

Swati.. Thanks for the insight. I have read a lot of Stephen Kings when I was younger, but abandoned them when I was in mid-college because I was having nightmares. That was over 10 years ago.. I don't read scary stuff anymore, thus the concern. Anyway, I'm still curious about this book as Laski seems like a prolific writer.

Green Road said...

Claire, this one's definitely not scary. Spooky would be more appropriate. Give it a try, I'm sure it won't give you nightmares, it's much too mild for that.