The charming, childish wife of a successful lawyer falls asleep one afternoon on her Victorian chaise longue, recently purchased in an antique shop, and wakes in the fetid atmosphere of an ugly, over-furnished room she has never seen before. This is the story of a trip backwards in time in which a nostalgia for the quaint turns into a hideous nightmare.
I really enjoyed this little Persephone book! I haven’t heard of it before and I can’t pronounce chaise-longue without sounding like a chimpanzee with a lisp. Regardless, it was a fun and creepy little read. I whizzed through it in a few hours, but it left me with a sense of foreboding doom.
Melanie is recovering from tuberculosis, which has mostly been cleared up. After several months bedrest, she’s allowed to go into the sitting room to have a change of scenery. Her husband puts her down to rest on a Victorian chaise-longue she’d bought, even though it’s hideous. She falls asleep and wakes up in the 19th Century, trapped inside the body of a woman called Milly, who is dying of advanced tuberculosis.
Melanie cannot communicate effectively with those around her, partly because of their prejudices against Milly and partly because the body she’s trapped in just won’t let her. She tries to seek help but no one will believe her. Melanie realises she must escape from Milly’s body before it’s too late…
I had heard this was a horror novel, which put me off a little bit, because I’m a big baby when it comes to horror. I don’t agree that this is what the book is. It’s creepy for sure. It reminded me a bit of We Have Always Lived in the Castle or The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which are more atmospheric than explicit horror.
This novella gives you a very claustrophobic feeling as you try to work out how Melanie is going to get out of her predicament. You are trying to piece together why Milly is so abhorred and judged by the people around her, who never really explicitly say what she did. Melanie isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but I don’t think her reactions are limited to her… the actions of the people around her, particularly Milly’s horrid sister Adelaide, prohibit much more understanding than Melanie gets.
I found the gender relations in this book to be really interesting and telling about both eras. While Melanie thinks the 1950’s (when this book was published) were far more advanced, there’s still traces of the Victorian that she rails against so strongly when she’s in Milly’s body.
I don’t really know why Melanie didn’t investigate Milly’s body before right at the end… I think if I was trapped in someone else’s body, I’d be having a look at what’s going on straight away! The ending could have been facilitated by other means, so I don’t really understand that particular decision on Laski’s part.
I was glad I bought this as an e-book in the end, since it was much cheaper than buying the print copy. I’ll likely read this again, as it was an interesting little novella, but at the price point of physical Persephone books, it’s size doesn’t make it worth it for me. It’s perfectly formed as it is, but there were some aspects that I’d have liked to have seen fleshed out. I wish it had been bundled with another Laski book or some articles by her (she was a journalist), as I would have loved to keep going with more of her works. I guess Persephone don’t find that financially viable, but it’s really my only major criticism.
As my first Persephone book, I’m really pleased by the quality of the writing and the story. I think the whole Persephone idea is awesome! It would be a shame if this book disappeared like so many others, and to think it’s been dragged back from the brink is a big sad, really! How many other great novels have been lost, simply because the author wasn’t taken seriously because of their gender or were just eclipsed by bigger names?
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