Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 151 pages, 1966

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: People kept telling me to read it upon finding out my favourite classic book was Jane Eyre.

Synopsis: Rochester’s mad wife, Antoinette, of Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre gets a chance to tell her own story in Rhys’ novel, from life as an outcast in Jamaica to meeting the ruthless Englishman that pushes her towards madness as rumours and memories of her past haunt her.

Why you should read this book: Rhys’ beautiful, clear writing gives voice not only to Antoinette; Rochester, one of the most intriguing male characters in literature, is also given a chance to narrate. This is a rare case of a new book actually adding to the richness of a classic novel, giving a sympathetic background to the vindictive madwoman in Jane Eyre.

Why you should avoid this book: While Wide Sargasso Sea works well on its own, it can obviously be better appreciated if Jane Eyre is read first. An edition with a good ‘notes’ section would probably be appreciated – Rhys packs a lot of meat into 150 pages.

Opening paragraph:

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self’ Christophine said.

Fabulous quotes:

‘I am not used to happiness,’ she said. ‘It makes me afraid.’

‘Never be afraid. Or if you are tell no one.’

‘I understand. But trying does not help me.’

‘What would?’ She did not answer that, then one night whispered, ‘If I could die. Now, when I am happy. Would you do that? You wouldn’t have to kill me. Say die and I will die. You don’t believe me? Then try, try, say die and watch me die.’

Looking at the tapestry one day I recognized my mother dressed in an evening gown but with bare feet. She looked away from me, over my head just as she used to do. I wouldn’t tell Grace this. Her name oughtn’t be to Grace. Names matter, like when he wouldn’t call me Antoinette, and I saw Antoinette drifting out of the window with her scents, her pretty clothes and her looking-glass.
There is no looking glass here and I don’t know what I am like now. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us – hard, cold and misted over with my breath.

Also recommended: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Also by this author: The Left Bank and Other Stories; After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie; Voyage in the Dark; Good Morning, Midnight; Sleep It Off Lady; Tigers are Better-Looking; Quartet; Smile Please.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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