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A little slice of nightmare,
This review is from: The Victorian Chaise-Longue (Paperback)
As this book begins, the reader is introduced to Melanie, a 1950s wife and mother who has been confined to her bed since the birth of her child as she was taken ill with tuberculosis and has consequently been unable to see her child in case the excitement is too much for her weakened constitution. As the novella starts, the doctor decides that Melanie is well enough to spend the afternoon in a different room to give her a change of scenery and she is carried to the Victorian chaise-longue of the title, a peculiarly compelling item of furniture which Melanie purchased in an antique shop whilst shopping in search of a crib for her coming baby. There, she falls asleep, but on waking Melanie finds herself no longer in the 1950s but back in 1864 and so the nightmare begins.
I thought that Melanie (or Milly as she is known in 1864) was a very interesting character. When the reader sees her in the 1950s she comes across as docile and rather vacuous, relying on her husband, the nurse and the doctor without any particular opinions or influence of her own, but there is still the feeling that there is something behind her perfect housewife exterior, an intelligence which she keeps hidden for some reason. Ironically, it is only when she is transported back to 1864 that this is revealed: in the modern setting the reader is kept out of Melaniefs head, wheareas all of the Victorian section is shown entirely through her thoughts and reactions. She starts to express her thoughts and try to act only at the time when she is most helpless and she no longer has other people around her to act as props. The nightmare experience of finding herself in an alien time period is the catalyst which forces her to become independent and so in a peculiar way the reader watches her becoming free even as she is trapped.
The most thought provoking aspect of this book is its ambiguity; as Ifve observed, the reader only experiences the time travel through Melaniefs mind and so it is impossible to say what exactly is going on. Is she dreaming? Is she mad? Has she really travelled in time? She retains her modern sensibilities and is aware of herself as Melanie, not Milly, but also has some of Millyfs memories, so who is she really? Has she regressed to a past life? Can she get back or is she trapped? If she dies in the past, what happens to her in the present? The reader is just as confused and disoriented by this sudden, unpredicted change in the direction of the narrative as Melanie is and so is drawn into her panic and horror.