Book Review – The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

I think that I’m quickly becoming a devotee of Persephone Books. I think it’s a bit like a boutique, in the way that lovely gems of stories seem to be picked and gathered together so that you can try something a bit different but still be confident that the time you spend reading them won’t be wasted.

Although I used to work near to the Lambs Conduit Persephone shop, I only ever once wandered in by chance and at the time just saw lots of grey books (albeit very pretty ones) by authors I’d never heard of, and wandered out again. Much later, after reading glowing reviews of a number of Persephone publications I picked up a copy of The Shuttle from the library. Delighted with that I started looking out for the elegant grey spines whenever I pop in to borrow books and my second Persephone, The Victorian Chaise-Longue did not disappoint.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue came out in 1953 and was written by Marhanita Laski the daughter of the socialist thinker Harold Laski, and better known for being a journalist. The plot centres around a young married woman (Melanie) who, after giving birth and recovering from tuberculosis moves to recuperate on an antique chaise-longue and finds herself trapped inside the body of a young woman (Milly) 90 years previous. The normally pampered Melanie, frightened out of her wits, struggles to understand the situation and new identity.

The Victorian Chaise-longue is less than 100 pages which I think was just right. Long enough to develop the character of Melanie and short enough to hold the suspense. I suppose you would categorise the book as a horror story – a very unusual one. I did think it had the feel of Rosemary’s Baby, with the element of the vulnerable young mother and it’s definitely an unsettling book.

I really enjoyed reading the character of Melanie. It seemed that Laski was making a comment about the way in which women can have an external ‘face’ with men which seems suppliant while actually being quite conscious and active in their behaviour.

“‘But I like you silly,’ said Guy, and so he does, thought Dr.Gregory, watching them. 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.”

I also liked the fact that Melanie was a vibrant and passionate character, much to the annoyance of her doctor:

“As he had expected, by the time he had finished Melanie was sitting bolt upright in bed, suffused with excitement. He sighed theatrically, and instantly she shot down again. Why, in heaven’s name, can’t she do things gently, said the doctor to himself.”

What I think is good about Laski’s storytelling is that it is a subtle. She sows the seed of an idea in the reader’s mind, but leaves you to think about what might have happened without exactly telling you. For example, throughout the story different characters allude to something that Milly has done which is sinful, then a confrontation with another character gives clues to what has happened. I found this element of obscurity worked really well, and I didn’t find it frustrating as I did when I read Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.

I really felt that I’d been treated to an original story in The Victorian Chaise-longue and one that was elegantly told. It’s not currently in print, unfortunately but if you like off-beat slightly unsettling stories like me I would definitely recommend you keep your eyes peeled for a second-hand copy.

What suspenseful stories have you read lately that you enjoyed?

14 responses to “Book Review – The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

  1. The Victorian Chaise-longue is still in print through Persephone but they periodically reprint their titles (due to high demand) so every few weeks a couple of titles from their catalogue are each away being reprinted – it should be available again soon!

    I am delighted that you are quickly becoming a Persephone devotee. I hope you’ll be joining us for the next Persephone Reading Week? Details are on my new site.

    Marghanita Laski is rivalling Dorothy Whipple to be one of my favourite Persephone authors and I cannot recommend Little Boy Lost highly enough.

    I found The Victorian Chaise-longue quite similar in theme to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which you can read online and is exceptionally good on young mothers, depression and trapped women.

  2. Great review Polly, can I pllllllease borrow this if you come and stay this week?

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  4. I love the sound of this book! This is the 3rd time I have seen it mentioned this week (OK, one of them was on Savidge Reads – who is also responsible for sending me this way to your fab blog). I think this book might be right up my street (I loved Rosemary’s Baby too).

    Great review.

    • novelinsights

      Ahh, if you like Rosemary’s Baby you will probably like this then! It’s definitely not a typical ‘horror’ it is just unsettling and very interesting. Hope youf ind a copy!

  5. Virginie Menzildjian

    I read this book last week and liked it , but I cannot say that I absolutely loved it.This is probably due to the fact that I enjoyed my very previous read and it is often hard to get into a book after one that you have loved.
    A very interesting read nevertheless and as you say quite unsettling.It is exactly how I would qualify this book : Unsettling, more than scary.
    I have bought “The Yellow Wall Paper” as well but have to read it yet.
    I love Persephone books, I bought six of them recently !!!They sent me their beautiful catalogue and it is difficult to make up one’s mind about what to order, they all sound wonderful…..

    • novelinsights

      I think you’re right, it’s an unsettling one and it’s a bit odd to read if you’ve been told it’s going to be a horror. Melanie’s plight is horrible but it’s not exactly scary in the traditional sense! I need to get my hands on the Persephone catalogue too…

  6. Virginie Menzildjian

    If you go to their website and fill up the form, they will send it to you with their magazine and a nice bookmark !
    The book I had read before was”The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters , a fine psychological thriller where you can feel a kind of powerful unease build very gradually, I loved it !And it spooked me…..Even if I liked it, maybe “the Victorian Chaise Lounge”would have had more effect on me had I not read “The Little stranger “right before !
    Greetings from France !
    Virginie

  7. Pingback: Book Review: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski « The Book Whisperer

  8. What a splendid review – thanks for sharing. this was my first Laski and i so enjoyed it, now I shall have to hunt down more. I have linked to your review inmy review. happy monday, Hannah

    • Thanks for the linky Hannah!! I would love to read some more Laski. Really unusual but interesting stuff.

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