The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

It’s a couple of years now since I read my first couple of novels by Marghanita Laski – Little Boy Lost and then The Village. Two very different books and I loved them both.

Yet I hesitated to read The Victorian Chaise-Longue. Could it possibly live up to such high expectations? Wouldn’t it be awful to not have something new by Marghanita Laski still to read?

The second problem was solved this autumn when Persephone kindly published To Bed with Grand Music. And then the November Novella Challenge inspired me to finally open the pages of The Victorian Chaise-Longue.

Could it live up to my expectations?

“Will you give me your word of honour,” said Melanie, “that I am not going to die?”

It is the middle of the twentieth century. Early in Melanie’s pregnancy her doctor found a patch on her lung – an early sign of tuberculosis. She now has a son, but she hasn’t been allowed to leave her bedroom or be in close contact with her child since the birth.

But now Melanie’s health is improving, and the doctor accedes to her wish to go downstairs and lie upon the Victorian-Chaise Longue.

It’s a strange piece of furniture. Old, worn and out of keeping with the rest of the house, and yet Melanie was drawn to it. She had to have it.

Melanie is spoiled, but she has charm and I couldn’t help sympathising with her situation. And wondering to what degree her upbringing, her family and society had taught her to behave as she did.

She falls asleep on her chaise-longue. And she wakes up on it. But she wakes up a hundred years earlier, in Victorian England. Where is she? Why is she being called Milly?

Melanie thinks she is in a nightmare. She tries to wake up, but she can’t. This is real. She is trapped and helpless.

Marghanita Laski conveys her feelings quite perfectly. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, and deeply unsettling. And the more you think the more unsettling it becomes.

Melanie gradually finds out more about Milly’s life. The similarities in their lives and their circumstances are extraordinary, but the consequences in their different times are starkly different.

“We seem to be together now, she explained, you and I, both hopeless. I think we did the same things, she told her, we loved a man and we flirted and we took little drinks, but when I did those things there was nothing wrong, and for you it was a terrible punishable sin.”

It would be unfair to say too much more, but the situation and Melanie’s emotions intensify as the story build to a conclusion.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue works on more than one level. It is a fine piece of storytelling and it is also a striking analysis of the changing position of women in society.

And while many authors would make a lengthy novel out of this material, Marghanita Laski distils it perfectly into just 99 pages.

The writing and the characterisation is as wonderful as my previous experiences with her writing had led me to expect.

And, once again, Marghanita Laski has come up with a stunning final sentence. How does she do that?!

The Victorian Chaise-Longue definitely lived up to my high expectations.

Persephone Books edition endpapers

18 responses

  1. This one sounds awesome. I like the idea of her sleeping on this chaise-longue only to find herself transported back in time. Very intriguing indeed. Are Persephone books readily available in England???? I wish I could come across these!

    • Staci, you won’t find Persephones in many bookshops, but you can buy direct from them (there’s a link in the publishers/presses section of my sidebar – the site is lovely and they ship worldwide) or from Amazon or the Book Depository.

  2. I really liked this one as well and should reread it as enough time has passed for me to forget most of the details. I have yet to read any of her other works, so I think I am in for a treat! I have read one of her short stories–in a ghost story/horror anthology, which was excellent!

    • Danielle, I’ve loved all three for very different reasons. I’ve never come across any short stories, but one of my libraries has her Jane austen biography which I must pick up one day.

    • My library has a copy of To Bed, but it is an elderly large print edition so i think I must hold out for the Persephone one day.

  3. Thanks for reviewing this book, Fleur. I’ve read a handful of mixed reviews and didn’t know what to think. My copy of To Bed with Grand Music is on its way, I can’t wait!

    • Darlene I think a lot hangs on whether you can empathise with Melanie. I could – and I think you would – but I can understrand that some people would find her annoying and so be less engaged by her story.

  4. Did you find it scary?

    I did think it was a good analysis of a woman’s position in society, but this book is supposed to be frightening and it didn’t scare me at all. In fact i found it a bit silly.

    I enjoyed it though and am pleased that you did too.

    • Scary – no. Unsettling – yes.

      I was prepared to suspend disbelief but I was aware that I was doing so.

      I didn’t get silly though. Was it the concept or Melanie’s reactions that you thought silly I wonder?

  5. I think this sounds really interesting. I’ve only ever read one persephone, and that was fluke because I wanted to read it. I didn’t realise it was persephone until it came from the library! maybe I should remedy that!

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: December 5, 2009 : Semicolon

  7. Pingback: Persephone Book No. 6: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski « The Persephone Forum

  8. Pingback: Review: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski « Alex In Leeds

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