94. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

(I'm definitely of the opinion that the statute of limitations is up on this one, but just in case: beware of Jane Eyre spoilers. And hey, they're making a new movie of it, starring Alice in Wonderland as Jane, and Billy Elliot as St. John. -M.R.)

Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics S.)Year Published: 1966
Pages: 190

First sentence: They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

To my complete surprise (I'd never heard of this book before, and the title suggests absolutely nothing), I discovered from the inside blurb that Wide Sargasso Sea is a sort of Jane Eyre prequel, the story of Edward Rochester's first wife.

Before I continue to review it, then, I have to tell you that I have a long and very fond relationship with Jane Eyre, however I haven't reread it for quite some time. Immediately after finishing Wide Sargasso Sea, though, I decided to call Jane Eyre a romance novel and read it for next week, at which time I'll wax poetic about it in greater depth.

For now, though, I have to operate based on previous readings, and of course the present reading of Wide Sargasso Sea. It's told in first person, mostly by Antoinette Cosway, the first wife in question. There's also a few bits told by Edward Rochester, though I don't think he's ever named as such. If, like me, you don't remember much about her story, I'll say that she's a sort of Creole heiress whose mother was essentially driven to insanity and who has a bit of craziness of her own. The story elaborates on the one Rochester tells in Jane Eyre about how he was tricked into marrying Antoinette, and gives a rather new perspective on the lunatic in the attic.

This book is interesting as a sort of companion novel to Jane Eyre, but I'm really not sure how effective it would be in its own right. Antoinette is a sympathetic character, Rochester rather less so, and there's certainly enough story available for a novel, it just seems like it might fall flat without the other work there to prop it up. I'm completely unable to say any of that objectively, though.

There's also, as usual, the matter of style. Aside from the first person narration, Jean Rhys and Charlotte Brontë are very vastly different. Between Antoinette and Jane this makes sense, considering that one is a crazy Creole and the other is a Victorian governess, but Edward's voice doesn't seem much different from Antoinette's. In any case, the sharp contrast makes Jean Rhys' style seem kind of pretentious and artsy. I don't think it's any different in reality from that found in The Ginger Man, for example, but it's the contrast that makes it seem ridiculous.

So, like I said, interesting by association, but not, perhaps, on its own.

Then Tia would light a fire (fires always lit for her, sharp stones did not hurt her bare feet, I never saw her cry).

I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track. And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think "It's better than people." Black ants or red ones, tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin—once I saw a snake. All better than people.

"You are a damn hard man for a young man."
"So you say, so you say."
"I tell her so. I warn her. I say this is not a man who will help you when he sees you break up. Only the best can do that. The best—and sometimes the worst."

Rating: 2/3 (meh)

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