Review: Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea”

by writereaderly

jean rhys wide sargasso seaI first read this when I was an undergraduate studying 19th century women writers (two subjects at two unis!), and I seem to remember that I was disappointed because it wasn’t “about” Jane Eyre enough. Shallow me: it is, of course, yet it isn’t. Rhys has taken the madwoman out of Charlotte Brontë’s attic, Bertha Mason, and fleshed her out into this counter-novel without a word wasted or out of place. Bertha, christened Antoinette and forcibly renamed by the (interestingly unnamed) young Rochester after their wedding, is drawn in fine, passionate detail as an isolated woman fending off the venomous tendrils of colonial hatred. Her husband is painted as an inconsiderate, money-hungry thug more interested in rumours and vengeance than understanding. Together their relationship makes a bleak tale of otherness and cruelty, set in the richly detailed ambivalence of Dominica, known to Rhys from her childhood. An impressive and cogent novel, much more than the much-touted “woman writing back to Empire”. Recommended, but be ready for the darkness within…

 Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair, bed, and armchair reads
Where it went:
Reminds me of/that: How desirable it is to reread classics when you’re actually old enough to understand them!
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers of thought-provoking fiction written in finely honed anger
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley