After I finished reading Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski I wanted to read more by her and borrowed The Victorian Chaise-Longue from my local library. It’s very different from Little Boy Lost and although it’s described as ‘a little jewel of horror’, I didn’t find it very horrifying, or even the slightest bit frightening. It’s about Melanie, a young woman who falls asleep on a Victorian chaise-longue in 1953 and wakes up in a different body, that of Millie, in 1864. No one believes that she is anyone other than Millie, a very sick young woman.
Melanie is a spoilt, pampered young woman, who is recovering from tuberculosis and the birth of a baby. She is indulged by her husband and although she affects a silly, giggly manner she is not stupid. Her doctor observes to himself after hearing a conversation between Melanie and her husband, Guy:
But Melanie isn’t the fool he thinks her, not by a long chalk, she’s simply the purely feminine creature who makes herself into anything her man wants her to be. Not that I’d call her clever, rather cunning – his thoughts checked, a little shocked at the word he had chosen, but he continued resolutely – yes, cunning as a cartload of monkeys if ever she needed to be. (page 5)
It is Melanie’s cunning that helps her in the nightmare situation in which she finds herself, trapped and powerless inside Millie’s body. The book is not really about the paranormal, or time-travel, but more a study of morals, of identity and the changing attitudes towards women, illness and death.
The Victorian Chaise-Longue is an extraordinary little book, but for me it was nowhere nearly as good or as satisfying as Little Boy Lost. The characters are somewhat shallow and insubstantial, although there is a feeling of claustrophobia and suspense as the end drew near and Melanie’s fate is in doubt – would she too die? I go along with P D James, who writes in the Preface of how Marghanita Laski went alone to a remote house to induce the fear she needed to write the book, but thinks:
What precisely she was trying to tell us is unclear; there may be a clue in the lines of T S Eliot which she reprinted at the beginning of the novel: ‘I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.’
- Paperback: 99 pages
- Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd; New edition edition (22 Jun 1999)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 0953478041
- ISBN-13: 978-0953478040
- Source: library book
- My Rating: 3/5