Monday, July 25, 2011

The Victorian Chaise-Longue (1953) by Marghanita Laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

If ever I read a more boring book, I cannot remember it offhand. A young middle class wife and mother recovering from TB has her consciousness transposed into the body of her unmarried counterpart in 1864. The unpromising idea is developed in a stultifyingly monotonous narrative which drones on and on without a single character developed enough to make him interesting, without a memorable or unexpected line of dialogue, without a word that enlivens the page. It's not that Laski is a bad writer, exactly; she just seems no kind of writer at all. Funnily enough, she (or her main character) spends some effort on pondering the paradoxes of time, in line with Houghton's book I have just finished, but those speculations couldn't be more inane. Maybe this all-embracing boredom results from the fact that Laski aimed not at telling a story but at making a point (Milly, the 19th century girl, is denied acceptance for all the things that the 20th century Melly takes by right and without a second thought). The ending is finally horrific and out-of-balance with the routine writing, but even that does not dispel the boredom, or the suspicion that Laski herself couldn't care less about her story or her characters.

The only thing that I knew about Laski up to now was that she'd hated the Ripley books as a reviewer and publicly advised Highsmith to bury the character as soon as possible. Now that I've come across her own notions of storytelling and character development, I am not surprised.


Karyn said...

I couldn't see the point of this book either: the story was uninteresting, its message was trivial. Fortunately, it is only short.

And yet it is a book which you often find favourably reviewed, so it has some quality which other readers find entertaining, but one that I couldn't perceive.

polecat said...

I'd seen your review, Karyn, before reading this, but somehow the book sounded intriguing. Or maybe it's just that I am a sucker for those illustrated orange Penguin covers. I'd read anything under such cover. But it was an effort to stick with this one to the end.