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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian horror
Most readers of classic Victorian fiction have surely wished that they could be transported back to the slower pace and more refined lifestyle of the nineteenth century. After reading this novel, you will never wish that again. First published in 1953, this is the story of Melanie, a rather spoilt young woman recovering from TB (still a threat only fifty years ago)...
Published on 20 Feb 2001 by Lynette Baines

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3.0 out of 5 stars Beta plus?
This is an interesting period piece; reading it, I could never forget that it was written in the 1950s. It was written at a time when nobody had a good word for the Victorian era ('Victoriana' was the usual derogatory term) and it also seems rather quaint that Melanie, living in the 1950s, should feel guilty about having spent a 'wicked' premarital week's holiday with the...
Published 8 days ago by Will Stevens


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian horror, 20 Feb 2001
By 
Lynette Baines (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
Most readers of classic Victorian fiction have surely wished that they could be transported back to the slower pace and more refined lifestyle of the nineteenth century. After reading this novel, you will never wish that again. First published in 1953, this is the story of Melanie, a rather spoilt young woman recovering from TB (still a threat only fifty years ago). Melanie goes to sleep one afternoon on a Victorian chaise-longue she picked up in an antique shop, and wakes up as Milly, a young woman in the nineteenth century. The horror comes from the fact that Melanie is still Melanie, with all her twentieth-century knowledge, yet she is trapped in another woman's body, a woman who has transgressed in some unspecified way. The sights and smells of the period are vivid- the butter which has gone slightly rancid, the smell of clothes which are never thoroughly washed. When Melanie can no longer delude herself that she is dreaming, the terror of her situation becomes overwhelming. This slight novel is written in a spare, matter-of-fact style which only makes the story more believable. The Victorian atmosphere- overcrowded, stuffy, suffocating- is beautifully evoked. Another wonderful reprint from Persephone.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling novella, 12 May 2009
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
I had never heard of either this title or the author when this disturbing novella arrived through my letterbox as a surprise gift from a friend. That was my loss, as I think it is one of the most chilling and evocative `ghost' stories I have read.

The plot is quite simple - the protagonist, Melanie, a rather shallow convalescent, is transported via an old chaise longue back to Victorian times and into the body of a young woman named Milly. The mastery, however, lies in Laski's skill at evoking Melanie's sense of dislocation, which she does through a myriad of sensory details and emotional reactions. This contrast - between her cosseted life in `the present' and the disgrace and threatening contempt that hangs over her in her Victorian life - is well executed.

Her confusion is shared by the reader - at first, you wonder like her whether the situation she experiences is a by-product of her recent illness, a feverish dream, but you also end up sharing her increasingly claustrophobic sense of horror as both you and Melanie realise that she is trapped in what for her (as for any of us) is a nightmarish world, separated from those she knows and loves.

I am surprised that this novella isn't better known; like Charlotte Perkin Gilman's `The Yellow Wallpaper', it is an excellent example of the `Female Gothic' genre and would provide a deep source of investigation for students of literature.

But that is merely an aside, for the work is a beautifully written work of `supernatural fiction'; I use the latter term in inverted commas, because although the text defies easy categorisation and despite the `time travel' element, it does seem written within that tradition. It certainly makes for a compelling read and it is a book I think you will be drawn back to for its skilfully evoked sense of horror. Although not really like the work of M R James, Laski does have a similar ability to invest ordinary words and events with an extraordinary degree of terror.

This printing - by the Persephone Press - has an admiring and fascinating introduction by P D James. It is also one of the most handsomely produced paperbacks I have come across, with a dust-jacket and beautifully illustrated endpapers; incidental to the quality of the text itself, perhaps, but a nice touch and a reminder of a time when, physically, books were things of higher value and craftsmanship than they often are now.

Definitely recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever thought you're in the middle of a living nightmare?, 4 April 2010
By 
Boof (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
I tracked this book down a few weeks ago after reading a review recently and being curious due to several points: 1) it is partly set in Victorian times 2) someone mentioned a feeling of similarity to Rosemary's Baby which is a book I read about 20 years ago and loved!

So, on to the book. Short at 124 pages this only took me a few hours to read. The story starts with Melanie who has been bed-bound for over a year due to having T.B. She gave birth to her son months before but hasn't been able to see him because of her illness and she is bored and longing to live a normal life again. Melanie has clearly been spoilt and doted on and this is really apparant in the way those around her deal with her. The books beginning is with the Doctor finally allowing her to have a change of secenry and lie on the huge Victorian chaise-longue in the drawing room. Melanie recounts how she found the seat in a antique shop and was immediately drawn to it although she was unable to expalin why. One happily settled in her new surroundings and lying on the chaise-longue she settles down for a sleep......

Melanie wakes up to unfamiliar smells and surroundings (save for the chaise-longue) and finds herself being looked after by a lady in long skirts and who insists on calling her Milly. We watch Melanie struggle as it dawns on her that she is not dreaming and is, in fact, alive and (not so) well in the year 1864. Again, bed ridden with T.B. she can do nothing other than to try and persuade the small cast of characters that she isn't Milly and doesn't belong there. Laski uses the supporting cast to hint at trouble, secrets and shame in Milly's life and we watch her try to piece together what has happened to her. The fact that Milly is unable to move and therefore unable to defend herself adds to the tension and the question of whether she will ever get back to her own life.

This book was written in 1953 and was classed as a horror book. The sparse narrative certainly helps to make it that way, although today's more sophisticated readers (in terms of there is little that hasn't been written about these days) would find this a much tamer read. It wasn't scary so much as eery for me but the ending certianly woke me up.

I would recommend this book, not as a brilliant read, but as an enjoyable (and amusing) look at what would have been considered horror back in the day. You don't need mass murderers and polterghiests to make a scary book; just a sparse plot that hints at what may have happened rather than lay it out in all its gory detail. Will it scare you? No. Will you enjoy it? I would say so.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, chilling, and brilliant, 19 Mar 2011
By 
Suzie (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
At just 99 pages, this is a little gem that leaves you with so much to think about. Melanie, spoilt and indulged, is not a character you particularly warm to but you'll soon be drawn into her nightmare, willing her somehow to escape it. On the morning of an appointment in the early 1950s with the Harley Street specialist who diagnoses TB, she arrived early so wandered into an antique shop. In the basement, she was drawn to an ugly Victorian chaise-longue and experiences only "her body's need to lie on the Victorian chaise-longue, that, and an overwhelming assurance, or was it a memory, of another body that painfully crushed hers into the berlin-wool."

Months pass before the doctor pronounces her sufficiently recovered to agree a change of scene, whereupon she is carried to the chaise-longue. There she falls asleep. When she wakes up the sunshine and the spring flowers whose appearance she so relished have been displaced by "darkness charged with a faint foul smell." Her body has become that of Milly, suffering from consumption, as TB was then known, almost a century earlier, but her mind is still that of Melanie. Or is it? She longs for her husband Guy to rescue her from this nightmare, just as she seems to recognise Adelaide, the woman who is looking after her, and to know that the portrait of Uncle George on the mantelshelf is in the wrong place.

But Milly, who has a dark secret that is only slowly revealed by hints and innuendo, is dying whereas Melanie was recovering. She must find some strategy to regain her former identity before it is too late. It's creepy, fascinating, horrifying, original, and so real. The details of Victorian times lend such an air of authenticity that the story becomes utterly believable. After reading this, you'll never dare risk drifting off to sleep on an antique chaise-longue or sofa!

As a child in the early '50s I knew of Marghanita Laski (whose name I thought rather exotic in those days) only as a broadcaster - my father used to listen to The Brains Trust on the Home Service, as it was then called. I had no idea that she had ever written fiction but shall now look forward to trying her other novels. This one is a real gem unearthed by Persephone.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beta plus?, 19 July 2014
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This is an interesting period piece; reading it, I could never forget that it was written in the 1950s. It was written at a time when nobody had a good word for the Victorian era ('Victoriana' was the usual derogatory term) and it also seems rather quaint that Melanie, living in the 1950s, should feel guilty about having spent a 'wicked' premarital week's holiday with the man she eventually married.

However, the book is very well written. The basic idea is brilliant, and it is well worked out with convincing and well drawn characters - even if the ambiguous ending is something of a cop-out.

In the end, though, I don't think that this is a neglected masterpiece, and I don't think that Marghanita Laski is a forgotten great author. Nor did I find it frightening (as some readers seem to have done) or particularly gripping. To that extent, I don't go along with the many five star reviews that the book has attracted. Putting it crudely, perhaps it's a good thing that the book is quite short - a long short story, really - and won't take up too much valuable reading time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars EERIE DREAM, 28 Aug 2012
By 
Mr. Michael Richard Harris (Michael, from Birmingham, England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
A peculiar work, a well written account of a sort of time travel I think. It works on many levels-I think it ought to at 14 pence per page. Grossly overpriced-read it in one shortish session.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Jewel of Horror, 1 Mar 2010
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
`The Victorian Chaise-Longue' was once described as a `little jewel of horror' and that in itself was enough for me to know I might like it a great deal. Marghanita Laski tells us the tale of Melanie a young woman in 1950's London who is recovering from Tuberculosis not long after having given birth. Tired of her own bedroom and the mundane boredom of recovery, and yet getting excited over the littlest thing her doctor allows her to spend some time in a new room for a change. In doing so she ends up resting on her antique chaise-long and dozing only to wake up in the body of someone else in a time from the past about 90 years or more previously. The tale follows Melanie as she becomes aware she is trapped in the body of Milly and as through the horror of realising this is not a dream.

Though by today's standards this doesn't seem a horror story its still very much a `little jewel' and one I found really uneasy reading. The way Laski puts you in the brain of Melanie with the body of Milly is wonderfully written. You have the terror, the self denial that its `merely imagination' and the creeping horror of the truth dawning upon Melanie as she tries to work out how she can escape this madness. You also get a few twists as you go along and learn more about Milly, a young woman disgraced, before a huge twist at the end which left me well and truly shocked.

Call it horror or not it's a fantastic story which gripped me from the very start. When Melanie first woke up in another body and another time I did have to do a little double take as I really wasn't expecting that to be the direction that this book went. I also thought that through the similarities between Melanie and Milly and their situations, which I will give nothing more away about, you do see how life had in some ways changed for women in nearly a hundred years and in some ways had very much stayed the same was an interesting subject for Laski to look at whilst at the same time producing such a little dark work, for indeed at 99 pages its quite a thin book but don't let its size fool you for a second it packs one heck of a punch.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking, 11 April 2008
By 
SJSmith (UK) - See all my reviews
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This was brilliant, and it's thanks to a friend I read it. I'm so pleased she recommended this novella (I think that's what it'll be classed as) otherwise I may not have stumbled across it on my own. It's chilling and actually quite scary as we've all undoubtedly stood at some point looking at artifacts or antiques wondering about the lives of the people who owned them - this is a chance to find out.

The story is superb. Melanie is from the 1950s, has a loving husband Guy and a small baby; she's recovering from TB and has decided to get out of bed and move to a different room for a change of scenery. Before she became ill she bought a Victorian chaise-longue (as depicted on the cover of most of the books). The description of this item of furniture is excellent. She falls asleep surrounded with happiness and contentment at being on the road to recovery. However she drifts into a nightmare world of the 1800s, with the previous owners of the chaise-longue. Then in she steps to the world of Milly.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic read, 1 Nov 2007
By 
kehs (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
This has got to be one of the most chilling short stories I've ever read. It's about a young married woman who is suffering from tuberculosis. She dozes off on a chaise longue that she had purchased from an antique shop. She realises that somehow, she has been transported to 90 years ago and finds herself trapped inside the body of another young women who is also ill. So begins her nightmare as she struggles to get back to her own time in order to save her life.

This is a perfect gothic read for a dark winter's evening or Halloween night.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A chilling time-travelling ghost-thriller, 13 Jun 2014
By 
R. A. Brown (Hove, E.Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-longue (Paperback)
Reincarnation is based on the idea that when the body dies its essential personality or spirit passes into another body, in another time and place, to live again in a different form. The new life is conditioned by how one behaved in the previous life. Access to the memories of previous lives is not through the conscious mind, which is sealed off from such knowledge, but through trances and dreams, fragments from the subconscious. Time-travelling stories of the ghostly kind, where two of more of these lives get confused, is a rich source for the gothically inclined author, and this superb novella is a very good example of it.

Melanie, in the present, diagnosed with TB but likely to recover, buys a Victorian chaise-longue in a junk shop. It turns out to be the agent of fatal, involuntary time-travel. Falling asleep on it, she wakes to find herself in the body of a women called Millie who is dying of TB. It is 1864; she is in a genteel but relatively poor house and is being looked after by her sister Adelaide whose attitude to her is equivocal. At first she thinks everyone around her is mad. Slowly, with horror, she understands what has happened to her; that she is trapped in another time, that she has the thoughts and language of someone else, that no one will believe that she has come from the future. As the day unfolds, and as she talks to her sister, the vicar, the doctor and a neighbour, all of whom treat her with pity and circumspection, sometimes accusingly, sometimes in desperation, and as fragments of Millie's memory surface, she pieces together a Victorian horror story involving a shameful pregnancy and a tearing loss. She is religious, believing in the efficacy of ecstasy through prayer, though this does not help her. The tragic climax offers a kind of release, but a very ambivalent one.

Apart from the incidental pleasures of the story - the way the author evokes the Victorian world - one of its chief pleasures, the one that perhaps attracted the crime writer P D James who wrote the Foreword, is to try and work out Millie's story. What happened to her? What has she got to repent? Who else was involved? Laski doesn't provide the answers but she gives you enough to work out a plausible scenario to explain the mystery, just as one does in a crime novel. Wisely, she doesn't attempt to try and explain why Melanie was transported to another time: that's taken as a given of the genre.

It's essentially a nightmare in which one person takes on the sins and frailties of another person, perhaps as a punishment, the nightmare of entrapment; death is the only way out. After reading it, I don't think you'll be tempted to buy the next chaise-longue that beckons to you in an antique shop; the past is best left to the past. A very entertaining book, to be read in one sitting. Don't let anyone disturb you while you are reading it for you might break its spell.
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The Victorian Chaise-longue
The Victorian Chaise-longue by P.D. James (Paperback - 22 Jun 1999)
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