I’ve been putting off reading The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski because actual ghost stories terrify me. While this book isn’t a ghost story* (even though it’s described as such by several reviewers), it is an eery, spooky and unsettling read. I’m glad I read it and wish I hadn’t put it off for so long because it’s an excellent story.
The book begins in the present day, which in this case is 1953. In the very first scene we meet Melanie, who is at home with her doctor and recovering from childbirth. The first thing I notice is how the men in her life (her husband, the doctor) treat her, as if she is a helpless infant. For example, both the doctor and her husband do not trust her opinion and patronize her because, well, she is just a woman who needs men to tell her what’s best. Melanie seems to accept this way of life, even though I can tell she has a strong backbone. Upon the doctor’s advice that she get constant rest, Melanie lies down for a nap on the Victorian chaise-longue that she purchased during an earlier antique shopping excursion.
When Melanie wakes up, she is still on the chaise-longue but has somehow traveled back in time, 80 years earlier to be exact. The reader, along with Melanie, discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of her Victorian counterpart. There are other characters that seem to be the Victorian counterparts. There is a doctor, a possible love interest and a whole host of others who also patronize her. Melanie’s confusion and anguish at this turn of events was even making me feel as if someone was stifling me. The thought of not being able to get back felt like I was imprisoned. Whenever Melanie tries to explain her situation, the words would not come out of her mouth. If the words or situation didn’t exist during the Victorian period, then her mouth couldn’t formulate the cry for help. She could think about her era or her home, but it was impossible to speak about it since it hadn’t happened yet. How horrifying.
I found it to be a very well-written story, but an eery tale that left me feeling unsettled because it doesn’t have a proper ending. Or if it does have an “ending” then I’m still pondering its meaning. The author wrote the story in such a way that I was inside Melanie’s head, metaphorically crying for help along with her. In thinking about the horror of being stuck in somebody else’s body, at least I can close the book after finishing the last page. Melanie, not so much.
I highly recommend reading this book. It’s a thought-provoking, excellent story that transports you to the parlor room of a Victorian house during Victorian England. The foreword is written by P. D. James, the queen of suspense. The book can be read in a day or over a weekend. And because I spent October reading Victorian literature and about the Victorian era in general, I was able to pick up on the layout of the Victorian parlor room, the maid’s behavior and the general etiquette of the era through the Victorian characters’ demeanor. If I hadn’t educated myself about the Victorian era, I may have missed all these fascinating details.
*A ghost story is described as fiction where ghosts appear in the story or the characters’ belief in ghosts are part of the premise.