Friday 7 May 2010

Persephone Week - The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

I was so glad to get to participate in Persephone Week this week, but I didn't get to read as many books as I would have liked due to other book obligations. Persephone Week has been organised by Claire at Paperback Reader and Verity at The B Files. Do pop over to their blogs and have a look, as they have had lots of interesting things going on this week to support Persephone Week.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue was originally written and published in 1953, but now has been brought back for out pleasure by the lovely people at Persephone. If you haven't read any books published by Persephone, then you are really missing out. There distinctive grey covers give off an air of elegance and although they are quite expensive at £10, they are like having rare diamonds in your collection.

Before I tell you a little about this book, I want to share with you a story about how Laski wrote this book. I found this passage in the preface to the book written by P D James.

'I had the pleasure of speaking to Marghanita Laski's daughter and granddaughter and was told an interesting story about the writing of the novel. Miss Laski, in order to frighten the reader, needed to frighten herself and went away alone to a remote house the family owned in Somerset. There, without company, she was able to induce in herself the fear which she so effectively evoked in her writing.'

Now how many writers go that far to create the right atmosphere for their readers.

This frightening little book tells the story of a young woman who has recently given birth and is in the recovering stages of TB, she has been ill for a long time, but she is happy to be returning to normal health and knowing that she won't die. Her doctor requests that she is ready to move from her sick bed to a new room with a view and her husband and nurse help to settle her down on the Victorian chaise-longue she bought from an antique shop. Once settled, Melanie, drifts off to sleep, only to wake up in her alter ego ninety years previous to the one she fell asleep in. Melanie has time travelled to the past whilst falling asleep and is unable to return to the present day.

This book is a scary version of time travelling. Laski will put you off ever having visions of travelling through time after you have read this. I couldn't help but feel a little freaked out by the story line. Melanie finds herself in the body of Milly, who is on death's door. Milly has in someway disgraced the family, through a sexual nature and is treated quite badly. Melanie has gone from being treated with kid gloves to being treated as a disgrace. You can feel the terror and fear that emanates from Melanie. Imagine being trapped in the body of someone who is dying, when you have so much to live for. This book is a very thought provoking one and definitely worth reading.

A couple of things left me a little confused and I will have to investigate to find out the answers. Firstly, I wasn't sure whether Melanie was a reincarnation of Milly and had gone back to her previous life. Secondly, I wasn't completely clear as to what happened to Melanie at the end, I keep rereading the last passage and I still can't work out whether Melanie returns to her own body or whether she dies as Milly. If anyone can clear up either of these points then I would be extremely happy.

If you are going to read a Persephone book, then this is brilliant one to start with, as it is quite short. However, if you get scared easy, then you many want to choose something else.

Other reviews of this book

Things Mean Alot


  1. Nice review, I must go and check what the week is about :)

  2. Vivienne - I'm glad you enjoyed this, and thank you for your lovely comments about the PRW. You're right though, it is not for the fainthearted!

  3. Thank you for participating, Vivienne!

    You raised a very good point about reincarnation... I think that Melanie could very well be a revisiting her past life in Milly. As for the ending, I think it is very much open to interpretation.

    You must read Little Boy Lost now! I love that Laski's books (published by Persephone) are so versatile and each have something different to offer; Little Boy Lost is heartrending.

    I'll be reviewing another Laski novel later today.

  4. "However, if you get scared easy, then you many want to choose something else."

    Hmm... Excellent review but, given your warning, I'm not sure this is for me. I don't usually do scary.

  5. I heard of this one before and I must admit that it sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Wonderful review! I read this in a Penguin edition and there was no preface so it was so interesting to read your post and learn how Laski wrote the book. She's an excellent writer. The Victorian Chaise Longue was my first book by her and I followed it with Little Boy different but brilliant

  7. Thanks for the warning - I scare easily so perhaps this isn't a book for me.

  8. Blodeuedd - you must go and check it out.

    Verity - I wasn't expecting it too be so chilling but I did love it.

    Claire - the more I think about it, the more I think she was reincarnated. I will definitely get Little Boy Lost to read. I will be putting in a wee order to Persephone I think.

    JoAnn- I think it is more distrubing thatn anything.

    Andreea - have you read any Persephone books? I think you would love them.

    Mrs B - I think I definitely need to read Little Boy Lost.

    Petty Witter - you must try a Persephone book!

  9. My goodness, I must get my hands on a Persephone book! They look so pretty and they all just seem really fascinating to read!

    Have you read The Yellow Wallpaper? I can't remember if we talked about that short story or not, but that would be an interesting one to read with this one, I think.

  10. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Vivienne! I agree that it's a disturbing book (and the ambiguous ending made it more so for me) and a great introduction to Persephone. The idea of reincarnation hadn't crossed my mind, but then that's the sceptic in me :P

  11. I remember really enjoying this book but also being a bit "lost" with the ending. I really want to read another of her books now though!

    Oh and I got my Persephone catalogue this week. Oh boy, I want all of them! :)

  12. Great review Vivienne - I have linked to you in my review of this book. happy Monday, hannah


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