“Will you give me your word of honour,” said Melanie, “that I am not going to die?”
I love it when a book starts with a first sentence that packs a punch. With this one, we immediately know that what follows will be a story of life and death.
The Victorian Chaise-longue is a very short (99 pages) novel about a woman in the late 1940s or early 1950s that is recovering from illness and suddenly finds herself in a most precarious situation – it appears she has woken up in 1864.
I will not reveal anything else about the plot (and the above is pretty much revealed on all general descriptions of the book), other than that the plot takes on a different shape depending on how you approach it.
Sounds mysterious? Well, it isn’t. It’s just that the plot is one thing if you read it with the expectation that everything in the book happens just as it is described. If, however, you begin to doubt the narrator, you may start to wonder what is really going on.
Do I know the answer to this question. Nope.
However, I really enjoyed the conjectures that this question of whether “here” is “here” or whether “here” is really “there” allows. In fact, by the end of the book I could not help but draw parallels to one of my all-time favourite novels A Tale for the Time Being, only of course that Marghanita Laski published The Victorian Chaise-longue in 1953, 60 years before Ozeki’s book. Do I think that Ozeki borrowed from Laski? Absolutely not.
The comparison merely came up because both authors seem to base their ideas on a similar question about what time really is, and how we live in time.
And both books look at people in their time, and really caught up in time and other circumstances. In Laski’s novel, this leads to illustrate the state of women in society – Victorian society and that of the 1940s/50s. Is there much change?
The Victorian Chaise-longue seems to be listed as gothic or horror in the same vein as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is but I have issues with this classification. In my mind, tagging works as “gothic” or “horror”, seems to pass them off as works of the imagination when, in fact, they are quite real. Scary and horrible they may be, but the connotations of the “horror” genre seem to deny such works the sense of veiled realism that truly punches the gut.
While I loved the book for its content and delivery, there were a few quibbles I had with the writing, which seemed to jump about a bit (But then, this may have been a way to show the MC’s state of mind.) and with one element that left me puzzled – had the treatment of TB in the late 1940s/early 1950s really not moved on from the 1920s?
I mean, Laski makes mention of penicillin, yet, no antibiotics seem to be part of the treatment and the MC herself still believes that fresh air, sunlight, and milk will provide a cure – much like prescribed in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924). Again, this is not a real criticism of the book, just an additional question I derived from it.
I am very much looking forward to reading more by this author.