Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Once I decided to try to read four books, my plan for this year’s R.I.P. VI Challenge, kindly hosted again by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings, was to slowly increase the peril level throughout the challenge. I started with a vintage mystery, moved to an early 20th century real life ghost story with some mildly perilous moments, and then read a contemporary Japanese ghost story with a really eerie perilous vibe. I was worrying if I’d gotten the order right after that one, but Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue really scared me, so in the end I got the order right.

Melanie, a young, 20th century mother with tuberculosis, sits on an antique chaise-longue to rest. She wakes up in 1864 – long before doctors realized that what she needed most was sunshine and fresh air. She recognizes no one – but they know her. She’s Milly, soon to die of tuberculosis. And they’re waiting for her confession. But she doesn’t have one to give, which contributes to the tension of the book.

So why was a book with no monsters, no ghouls, and no brutally murdered innocents so scary? The horror of Lanski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue comes from Melanie’s growing realization of her abjectly hopeless situation:
But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is yet to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape – and the eternal prison she imagined for herself consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss. p. 58-59

This book creeped me out – there’s not one graphic moment, but it’s the kind of book that makes you think. What would it be like if no one believed you? What would it feel like to be without the people you love most when you are ill? What if the person who was supposed to love you most really didn’t? Powerful and horrible themes that pushed my peril-meter higher than I usually like!

Okay – four perilous reads for the R.I.P. VI Challenge – and just in time! Thanks so much, Carl V., for another great autumn of perilous reading. I am already looking forward to next year! This was one of my favorite Persephone Books so far.


  1. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this story. I also found it to be disturbing and thoughtful and I think you ended the RIP Challenge just right! I also ended the challenge tonight by reading Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, by Joyce Carol Oates, and I found it more frightening because of what was left unsaid, although I probably wrote more in my review tonight than in any other review I've ever posted. :)

    A great challenge for the past two months, and I had fun, too. Can't wait for next year!

  2. I really enjoyed the reading too, Natalie. I'm planning on going back to the reviews and coming up with a good ghost story list for next year's challenge soon :)

  3. Every time I see this book reviewed I remember I want to read it!

  4. I'd love to read this one, even though it is somewhat disturbing. Thanks for sharing with us.

    We just got our internet back today after Saturday's storm, so I am thrilled I can visit your blog again.

  5. This sounds marvelous! I love the creepy, chilly, psychological feel -- totally new to me so I'm thrilled you reviewed this. WANT!

  6. I can totally understand why you would find this one so you, I can be easily more disturbed by the psychologically eerie stuff as opposed to the graphic gore. Perfect read for the RIP challenge!

  7. It was definitely one of my favorite Persephone reads as well, and you're so right: it didn't need any ghosts, ghouls or goblins. It was horrifying enough realizing that this could indeed happen (being trapped in one's mind/situation). Gives me shivers just thinking about it, and I don't even need to take it to the place of time travel as perhaps Lanski does.

    By the way, I'm sure you noticed that Persephone Secret Santa is up again for this year? Check out paperback reader's blog, or my sidebar as I can't remember the specific details here. I think I must be laying on some chaise longue chair... ;)

  8. You have gotten me curious about this one, particularly because I liked Little Boy Lost so much.

  9. wow!I don't know that I would have thoguht of Persephone for the RIP challenge but I love this pick!I hope to read this one eventually.


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