Sometimes I think some books come magically into our lives at just the right time and ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ by Marghanita Laski is one such book. This isn’t a book I owned nor is it a book that I had from the library, in fact it’s thanks to the lovely Novel Insights (who came to stay for the weekend while her beloved is in Hong Kong) who brought me the copy she had taken out from the library and thought I might like to read too. I liked it so much I almost refused to put it down and get out of bed to be a good host as I was so engrossed yesterday morning.
‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ was once described as a ‘little jewel of horror’ and that in itself was enough for me to know I might like it a great deal. Marghanita Laski tells us the tale of Melanie a young woman in 1950’s London who is recovering from Tuberculosis not long after having given birth. Tired of her own bedroom and the mundane boredom of recovery, and yet getting excited over the littlest thing her doctor allows her to spend some time in a new room for a change. In doing so she ends up resting on her antique chaise-long and dozing only to wake up in the body of someone else in a time from the past about 90 years or more previously. The tale follows Melanie as she becomes aware she is trapped in the body of Milly and as through the horror of realising this is not a dream.
Though by today’s standards this doesn’t seem a horror story its still very much a ‘little jewel’ and one I found really uneasy reading. The way Laski puts you in the brain of Melanie with the body of Milly is wonderfully written. You have the terror, the self denial that its ‘merely imagination’ and the creeping horror of the truth dawning upon Melanie as she tries to work out how she can escape this madness. You also get a few twists as you go along and learn more about Milly, a young woman disgraced, before a huge twist at the end which left me well and truly shocked.
Call it horror or not it’s a fantastic story which gripped me from the very start. When Melanie first woke up in another body and another time I did have to do a little double take as I really wasn’t expecting that to be the direction that this book went. I also thought that through the similarities between Melanie and Milly and their situations, which I will give nothing more away about, you do see how life had in some ways changed for women in nearly a hundred years and in some ways had very much stayed the same was an interesting subject for Laski to look at whilst at the same time producing such a little dark work, for indeed at 99 pages its quite a thin book but don’t let its size fool you for a second it packs one heck of a punch.
I loved this book and it will be going on my wish list as it a book I could easily spend a few hours reading again and again. . It also fits in perfectly as a read for Jewish Book Week which I mentioned on Saturday. Its currently unavailable new (there are some pricey second hand editions about) as Persephone print certain books in certain batches I gather but I have heard rumour it will be available in the not too distant future and I for one (well actually more likely The Converted One) will be one of the first in the queue to get a copy all of my own. Its one book I definitely want on my shelves. If you haven’t read it then do give it a whirl if you can, if you have read it what did you think?