Buy This Book: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Not a recent read. This book came up in small talk last night in the context of an exchange with a fabulous stranger as we both waited for drinks at the bar upstairs at House of Blues in New Orleans. Thirty-plus years after I read Jean Rhys' beautiful novel, Wide Sargasso Sea found its way into our circuitous conversation.

Now that's a great book. One that haunts a far dark corner in memory and returns to the reader decades hence, when the reader is an entirely different person. All the old insights are suddenly new, calling the reader to return. And I'm feeling that call from Wide Sargasso Sea.

Emily White writes:
The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester's. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. "I watched her die many times," observes the new husband. "In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty."

Rhys struggled over the book, enduring rejections and revisions, wrestling to bring this ruined woman out of the ashes. The slim volume was finally published when she was 70 years old. The critical adulation that followed, she said, "has come too late." Jean Rhys died a few years later, but with Wide Sargasso Sea she left behind a great legacy, a work of strange, scary loveliness. There has not been a book like it before or since. Believe me, I've been searching.

Comments

Pamala Knight said…
Thanks for the post Joni. I love Wide Sargasso Sea and only just recently watched the film version on Ovation. It was very sumptuous but still didn't match the beauty of Jean Rhys's words.
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE that novel! Thank you for reminding me. It's one of my all-time faves.

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