Friday, May 11, 2007

On the chaise longue

The Victorian Chaise Longue, by Marghanita Laski, is a very odd little story, with more than meets the eye. It's ultimately quite terrifying; indeed, a sink of malignancy. Very little happens by way of plot, but what happens in the mind is frenetic. There is no resolution; we're left to decipher the patterns, as Melanie tries, but the only link she finds between her present and the past she wakes up in — and the body she finds herself trapped in — is the chaise longue she lies on.

We seem to be together now, she explained, you and I both hopeless. I think we did the same things, she told her, we loved a man and we flirted and we took little drinks, but when I did those things there was nothing wrong, and for you it was terrible punishable sin. It was no sin for Melanie, she explained carefully, because the customs were different; sin changes, you know, like fashion.

Both Melanie and Millie are wholly dependent on their doctors and their sisters, who (inexplicably?) wield a great deal of power. Melanie is confined by illness, a condition compounded by childbirth, but it's really the doctor and the husband (and the sister!?) who control her fate. Her sexuality is strongly hinted at — the ecstasy that brought her to this place — but shame is stronger; while she seems to appreciate her relative freedom, we know it to be more suppressed than she admits.

Whether Melanie is dreaming, having a vision of the past, or experiencing some other supernatural phenomenon is never explained.

This slim novel provides a disturbing but worthwhile glimpse inside a woman's head, an opportunity for a woman of today to temporarily experience Melanie's 50-odd-year-old desperation and Millie's 150-year-old hopeless cause.


Unknown said...

I love book reviews.. Glad I stopped on over

Bybee said...

I don't know why, but I've got this novel and the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" linked in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Geez! A sink of malignancy! Who could resist that?

Anonymous said...

I read this earlier this year and found it very creepy as well. For being such a short book, there is really a lot to it. It took some time to figure out what was going on and I am still not even sure--I sort of went with the supernatural experience, but really it could be read either way. I think I will need to reread this one sometime.