Review of ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ by Marghanita Laski

Recovering from both tuberculosis and the birth of her baby, Melanie Langdon is looking forward to the future. She has an attentive husband, a lovely house and decent medical care. For a change of scenery, she’s moved from her bed to a chaise-longue, an old sofa she bought from a junk shop. That’s when the horror begins…

I borrowed this novella from the library, just because it’s a Persephone Classic (a series re-issuing books by and about women). There wasn’t a blurb, only an extract printed on the jacket flap, so I assumed the story was a domestic drama, perhaps a romance. I didn’t read the introduction, either (I never do, if the story is new to me – then I avoid the spoilers). So when, about a third of the way through, it became quietly scary and unsettling, I was surprised. In a good way.

The strengths of The Victorian Chaise-Longue are the suspense, excellently-observed details and occasional stream of consciousness style. The ending was chilling but I wasn’t satisfied with it. I feel that the ideas could have been further developed and the work extended into a novel. Characterisation was maybe a weaker aspect but with several characters in so few pages, I suppose there wasn’t much room for it. This aside, I really liked Marghanita Laski’s style and would read more by her. I recommend this one if you like creepy stories that make a lasting impression, and you don’t mind the language being a little dated (it was first published in 1953).

Reading this book also made me think about how healthcare has changed, along with women’s aspirations. The two are very much linked. I’m grateful to be living at this point in history when so many medical problems, once life-threatening, are no longer a risk and where I have access to family planning, counselling and health information. This in turn allows me to study, pursue a career, choose to become a parent, read and write whatever I want. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be here right now, writing this blog…

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