The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for bad hair days


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Bad hair day

Cure: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

Everyone has them – man, woman and poodle. Whether your locks are lank or unruly, your roots are showing through, or you've driven to Brighton and back in an open-topped sports car, sometimes there's no brush or gel that can save your coiffure, and the day seems doomed to fail. The next time you have a BHD, you'll feel a lot better if you spend some time on the sofa with Marghanita Laski's hair-raising novel, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, and meet Melanie as she reclines on her chaise in the 1950s, recovering from TB and nursing her newborn babe.

Except that, as she wakes from a deep sleep, Melanie is bewildered – and increasingly terrified – to discover that she appears to be inhabiting someone else's body. Her hands are unfamiliar, and adorned with white lace; she is covered with a harsh wool blanket; and she has the disquieting sense that she's wearing an unaccustomed quantity of undergarments. Just then, a servant enters the room, and addresses her as Milly. She begins to understand that she's woken up in Victorian times; that rather than recovering from TB, she is dying; and that, as Milly, she has done some great and grievous wrong, the exact nature of which she cannot guess.

Melanie's mounting distress is almost unbearable to witness. Too weak to leave the chaise-longue, too appalled by her predicament to risk looking in a mirror, she cautiously feels her hair, and finds it looped strangely around her ears. Will she ever be able to return to herself – and her baby?

Now, reconsider your position. Your curls may look frightful, but at least they're yours. At least you're not trapped in someone else's body – a disease-ravaged one at that – and with someone else's mop on your head. Then pull on a hat and get on with your 21st-century day.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);