I came across this book on a list of forgotten classics, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise: Melanie in her modern drawing room falls asleep on her antique Victorian chaise-longue one afternoon, and wakes up in a different, frailer body, in a Victorian household. What really caught my attention was the assertion that this book would cure its female readers of ever wanting to travel back in time to Barsetshire. I am a sucker for any Trollope connection, and I was glad of an excuse to browse again at Persephone Books. (Never mind that I already have Marghanita Laski's Little Boy Lost unread on the TBR shelves.)
While this book had no effect on my love for Barsetshire, I can say it was one of the most unsettling and horrifying books I have read in a very long time. A great part of its effect is I think that so much is left unsaid, unexplained, for the reader and Melanie to figure out. Yet at the same time, I saw some things more clearly than Melanie, confused and terrified by her experience. I am on record as a fan of time-travel or time-slip books, but in those I have read, the characters either seek the experience or quickly adapt themselves to it. I had never considered the horror of waking in someone else's body, not knowing who or where one was - and without the least idea how to get back.
I was very impressed with the ingenuity of Laski's story, the skill with which she slowly reveals Melanie's awakening and discovery. Because we see through her eyes, we are caught up in her confusion and terror. Laski links the stories of the two women together in such clever ways, some of which I didn't catch until after I'd finished the book and was thinking back over the story. I felt Laski evoked a small corner of the Victorian world wonderfully well. I don't think though that it is any kind of statement on Victorian women in general, but on the experiences of one particular woman and her circumstances.
And all of this in such a short book - only 99 pages in the Persephone edition. Its impact is all out of proportion to its size. I really appreciated P.D. James's introduction to this edition, which gave me some background information on Marghanita Laski, as well as the titles of her other books - hopefully also published by Persephone.
I am mortified however to learn that I have for years mistakenly called this particular piece of furniture a "chaise-lounge." Which made sense in my mind because one lounges upon it. But still - I blush for my long-ago French minor in college. And after reading this, I doubt I will ever sit - let alone lounge - on one again.