Friday, October 1, 2010

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski

So, another Persephone, but also, a neo-Victorian, and it counts for the RIP Challenge!  I'm killing three birds with one stone, plus it was only 120 pages!

But seriously, this is one creepy little book.  Our protagonist Melanie is a young married woman living in London, I'm guessing about 1950.  She has a young baby, but has hardly seen him because she is recovering from tuberculosis.  However, her prognosis is good, and until her husband can take her to Switzerland, she is recovering at home.  In fact, her doctor has said it's okay for her to get out of bed and move into another room.  Melanie is finally going to be able to look out the window, lying on an ugly Victorian chaise-longue she bought at an antique store when she was newly pregnant, shopping for a cradle.  She never actually used the chaise longue because she became ill.

However, things take a turn for the bizarre -- on her first afternoon lying on this antique piece of furniture, Melanie closes her eyes for a nap and awakens in Victorian England, lying on the same hideous chaise longue.  She's being attended by her bitter, cold sister Adelaide, and her name is now Milly.  She is upset and confused and her sister is angry and hateful, and though she doesn't understand what's happening, she recognizes pictures in the room, and names, and has snippets from memories of people she doesn't even know.

A Victorian Chaise Longue, not so ugly
This book is strange and unsettling -- without giving too much away, Milly's sister is angry with her and she doesn't know why, but Milly's life has strange parallels to Melanie's.  She doesn't know if she's been reincarnated or remembering a past life or if she's dead.  Some secrets are revealed at the end, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Though I was lucky to get a 1953 edition through interlibrary loan for free, I really wish I'd bought a copy of the recent Persephone edition because it has an introduction by P. D. James.  Persephone Books is now hosting an online discussion group, and if they continue in order of publication, The Victorian Chaise Longue should be the November read and hopefully someone in the blogsophere can answer all my questions.  It's a creepy little read and I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy.

Have you reviewed this book on your blog?  Please tell me in the comment section and I'll link to your review.


  1. Ooh, isn't that crazy when a book can creep you out like that! I actually had to put down a murder mystery once b/c it was too much... not gruesome just psychological. Have fun with the rest of the challenge! I am participating too :)

  2. This sounds delightfully creepy and right up my alley! If there's anyone who's going to get me to read a Persephone book, it's you.

  3. I feel so dumb! I tried to read this after I read (and quite liked) Little Boy Lost, and I got so confused I had to stop. Does it get less confusing as it carries on?

  4. Svea -- it's pretty creepy, but not the supernatural aspect so much. I think the creepiest part is how Melanie her realizing where she is and how the Victorian person she has become, Milly, has parallels to her own life. Not a good advertisement for time-travel!

    Amanda -- you'd probably like this one. I may get you hooked on Persephones yet!

    Jenny -- were you confused when she woke up in Victorian times? I think that's kind of the point, that the reader is as confused as Melanie. Things start to become clear to the reader as they do to Melanie. It's worth sticking with. I do want to read Little Boy Lost also, I've heard it's very different but also wonderful. So sorry I missed Persephone reading week.

  5. Somehow I had a completely different idea in my head as to what this book was about. Strange. Well, it sounds like one I would love so I'll look for it!


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