Saturday, 24 January 2015

WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys

I wanted to like this book. I’ve been meaning to read it for years, as it is quite famous as a commentary on Jane Eyre (my A-level set book, and thus probably unhealthily formative). It tells the story of Rochester’s ‘mad wife,’ Bertha Mason, before she comes to England. It therefore is obviously a feminist and post-colonial critique of the novel. It is also unfortunately a bit dull and tortured. Or it is so for my tastes anyway. From the moment Rochester meets her in the West Indies its clear all is going to go horribly wrong, and the deepening sense of doom makes the two hundred pages seem very long.

I felt bad not to enjoy it, because poor Jean Rhys, like another author I just finished reading, Barbara Pym, had a long period in her life when he books where out of fashioned and neglected, and she was in her 70s before she finally hit really huge success with WIDE SARGASSO SEA. The book won a major literary award, about which her only comment was “It has come too late.” Heartbreaking. Makes me wish I liked the novel.

As a side point, it’s interesting to note that it was another author in this blog, Diana Athill, who took the risk of publishing the book.

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