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.