Melanie, a young, 20th century mother with tuberculosis, sits on an antique chaise-longue to rest. She wakes up in 1864 – long before doctors realized that what she needed most was sunshine and fresh air. She recognizes no one – but they know her. She’s Milly, soon to die of tuberculosis. And they’re waiting for her confession. But she doesn’t have one to give, which contributes to the tension of the book.
So why was a book with no monsters, no ghouls, and no brutally murdered innocents so scary? The horror of Lanski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue comes from Melanie’s growing realization of her abjectly hopeless situation:
But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is yet to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape – and the eternal prison she imagined for herself consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss. p. 58-59
This book creeped me out – there’s not one graphic moment, but it’s the kind of book that makes you think. What would it be like if no one believed you? What would it feel like to be without the people you love most when you are ill? What if the person who was supposed to love you most really didn’t? Powerful and horrible themes that pushed my peril-meter higher than I usually like!
Okay – four perilous reads for the R.I.P. VI Challenge – and just in time! Thanks so much, Carl V., for another great autumn of perilous reading. I am already looking forward to next year! This was one of my favorite Persephone Books so far.