Wide Sargasso Sea

This was the latest book we read in our book club.

I’m not sure that I’m the best person to write about this book, as I didn’t really appreciate or enjoy the book quite as much as the other members of our group. This book is a classic (always scary territory) that has been studied and picked over for years and whilst that isn’t usually an issue for me, I came to the book like it was any other. Written in 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea is set in the post colonial West Indies. It tells the story of a white Creole heiress who is caught in the middle of seismic changes brought about by the abolition of slavery and the subsequent social turmoil and human displacement.

I’ve got to be honest, this book didn’t grab me.

I didn’t care that much about the characters and whilst I enjoyed the mood created by the author jean Rhys, it seemed like I was missing out on something. At the book club meeting I discovered that this book was written as a literary companion piece to Charlotte Bronte’s famous Jayne Eyre novel and shares characters like Mr Rochester. Some of the members in the group found this interesting and clever, having read both books but that’s the thing, you really needed to have read both and I hadn’t.

Positives in the book for me was that the book possesses a dark heart and there is something sinister and oppressive lurking beneath the surface. It has an unsettling atmosphere and the constant switching of narrator adds to this tone. It’s a very brief book too – which has many positives in our busy lives – and I always think that an author that can use brevity and still paint a very lucid picture is a very good writer.

Make no bones about it, Jean Rhys is an authoritative author who wears her literary power lightly delivering powerful imagery in her sparse prose. But the book glowed and sparked only a little for me and instead of the ominous build to an explosive climax, it fizzled out quietly. It felt also like this was her plan too: not for her the dramatic denouement but a low-key, depressive ending in keeping with the central character’s contrary nature.

So — a book I kind of enjoyed but actually felt a little short-changed by in the end. More importantly for us, it delivered a lively discussion around the table with scores ranging from two to seven. With a couple of new faces in the group, it made for a thought-provoking evening but even after all was said and done, I still felt my initial view was vindicated.

My score: 4 / 10

Next book: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

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