Review: The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

Of all the books in the Persephone catalogue this is the one I’ve been looking forward to reading the most. Maybe it was the word ‘Victorian’ that appealed to me (I’m slightly obsessed with the Victorian period) or maybe it’s just that it has sounded so fascinating in every review I’ve read. I’ve seen this book described as a horror story – ‘a little jewel of horror’. For me, though, it wasn’t so much frightening as unsettling and creepy.

Melanie Langdon is a young mother recovering from tuberculosis in bed at her home in 1950s London. When the doctor tells her she can move to another room for a change of scenery, Melanie decides to lie on the chaise-longue in the drawing room, an ugly item of Victorian furniture she had purchased in an antique shop.

Melanie lies on the chaise-longue and falls asleep – but when she awakens, something has changed. She’s still lying on the same chaise-longue, she still has TB, but it’s now the year 1864, she’s being cared for her by her hostile sister Adelaide, and her name is no longer Melanie – it’s Milly. Is Melanie dreaming? Remembering a previous life? Has she really travelled back in time and become somebody else?

Who is Milly Baines? came the gradual inquiry, and at last she looked, as she had not dared to before, at what was immediately around her, examined, tested, interpreted the feeling of this body of Milly Baines in which was imprisoned the brain of Melanie Langdon.

I have to admit I’m not sure that I fully understood what was supposed to be happening in this book. After thinking about it though, maybe that was the point – the reader isn’t supposed to understand because Melanie herself doesn’t understand. The book conveys a sense of confusion, panic and disorientation and I could really feel Melanie’s helplessness as she lay on the chaise-longue, trapped in Milly’s body, desperately trying to work out who she was and how she could escape.

What makes Melanie’s story so disturbing and nightmarish is that although she has apparently been transported back in time, she has kept all of her twentieth-century ideas and sensibilities. As Milly, she finds herself a victim of the repression of Victorian society and there’s nothing she can do to change her situation.

At only 99 pages, this book can easily be read in an hour, but there’s so much packed into those 99 pages that the story will stay in your mind for a lot longer than that.


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24 thoughts on “Review: The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

  1. Amanda October 12, 2010 / 10:19 pm

    My friend Karen just read and reviewed this, which was the first time I’d heard of it. It sounds really good!

    • Helen October 13, 2010 / 2:37 pm

      I only heard of it recently too and was so intrigued by the title and synopsis I knew I would have to read it!

  2. Jillian October 13, 2010 / 1:45 am

    This one sounds kind of interesting…

    • Helen October 13, 2010 / 2:40 pm

      It was fascinating, but I think I’m going to have to read it again to be able to understand it properly!

  3. Charlie October 13, 2010 / 2:36 pm

    This sounds brilliant! But definitely uncomfortable, and not being able to understand things must be awkward. I’ve been looking for more short books so I’m noting this down.

    • Helen October 13, 2010 / 3:04 pm

      Yes, it was very uncomfortable – it had such a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere. And it was the perfect length. If it had been any longer I think it might have had less impact.

  4. Karenlibrarian October 13, 2010 / 7:43 pm

    I just read this a couple of weeks ago — I found it disturbing. I can’t imagine going back to Victorian times. I agree, it was just the right length. I am all about the short books lately!

    • Helen October 15, 2010 / 3:16 pm

      I love reading about Victorian times, but I wouldn’t want to go back to them!

  5. tuulenhaiven October 14, 2010 / 12:49 am

    Eeek, the premise of this book always intrigues and freaks me out. I really want to read it, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Thanks for another prod in the right direction.

    • Helen October 15, 2010 / 3:17 pm

      I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it!

  6. The Book Whisperer October 14, 2010 / 9:52 am

    I really enjoyed this book. Have you read Little Boy Lost? I loved that one too :)

    • Helen October 15, 2010 / 3:18 pm

      I do have a copy of Little Boy Lost but I haven’t read it yet. I’m looking forward to it!

  7. Mystica October 15, 2010 / 1:45 am

    I’ve read two books like this – same theme I mean – one was a Jane Austen sequel and it was not quite comfortable! I never could get to grips with the story.

    • Helen October 15, 2010 / 3:28 pm

      I think I’ll have to read this book again sometime to fully appreciate it. I’m sure there must be a lot of things I’ve missed.

  8. Iris October 15, 2010 / 12:55 pm

    Many seem to love this, but I have always been a bit afraid of the book (always, as in, the last 6 months since I hadn’t heard of it before Persephone Reading Week) since I’m not good with disturbing books. But I want to read it anyway, I think.

    • Helen October 15, 2010 / 3:39 pm

      I didn’t find the book scary exactly, but definitely disturbing. I think you would probably like it though.

  9. BuriedInPrint October 15, 2010 / 8:56 pm

    I agree that it’s a bit unsettling on first reading, but I seem to remember that the second time brought a lot of things together. She’s such a fascinating writer!

    • Helen October 16, 2010 / 8:07 pm

      I think I definitely need to read it a second time! I’m looking forward to reading her other books too.

  10. Kailana October 23, 2010 / 6:38 pm

    This is the first I have heard of this book, but it sounds really good!

    • Helen October 24, 2010 / 2:20 pm

      I only heard of it a few months ago when I started to get interested in Persephone Books. It was perfect for both the RIP challenge and readathon!

  11. Shellie October 28, 2010 / 12:42 am

    This would in fact be a horrible nightmare for me.
    Have you ever tried to lay on a Victorian couch? They are extremely uncomfortable as a general rule. Visit an antique store and try and sit on one. Horse hair is what the stuffed them with ….stiff as a board.

    And the repressive society and all the clothes women had to wear…. goodness. True horror!

    • Helen October 28, 2010 / 9:50 pm

      No, I’ve never sat on one but I can imagine they wouldn’t be very comfortable! I love reading about the Victorians but I certainly wouldn’t have liked to have lived in those days.

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