Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Bone
Reviewed by Jill Bone
Summary: Classic post colonial literature that feels essentially Jamaican.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Penguin Essentials
ISBN: 978-0241951552

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In the late eighteen thirties the father of an English gentleman conspires to marry him off to a landed Jamaican Creole as a means of giving his second son an estate and stopping him being a burden on the family. Written in the nineteen sixties, Wide Sargasso Sea was inspired by Rochester's first wife in Jane Eyre, and is an impressionistic, hallucinatory account of that woman's alienation and subsequent descent into madness that can be read as a prequel to the Bronte novel. The book covers Antoinette's childhood in Jamaica and her honeymoon on a small Caribbean island with her new husband and their domestic servants, and the point of view shifts between Antoinette and her husband.

There's a strong current of shame running through the book. Whites are ashamed of slavery and blacks are ashamed of having been enslaved. This sense of shame is doubled for the mixed race child Antoinette as she is estranged from both white and black society. Her white relatives are ex slave owners, now referred to as 'white cockroaches' by the blacks in post emancipation Jamaica, and also 'white niggers' as they have been made poor by emancipation and struggle to maintain a facade of respectability (later on Antoinette inherits property which is why she is an attractive proposition for Rochester). As her childhood home crumbles, white people no longer come to visit and her resentful black neighbours eventually torch the place.

Powerful, toxic emotions resonate through the Caribbean landscape. Rochester (his name is never actually mentioned in the book but it's easy to infer that it's him if you've read Jane Eyre) experiences the place as a hallucinatory nightmare, where the landscape seems too dramatic to be real and the objects and wildlife are too vivid. In contrast, England seems unreal to Antoinette and she has trouble believing in it with its 'millions of people, their houses and their streets'. 'You think there is such a place?' asks the domestic servant cum obeah woman Christophine ironically, when Antoinette daydreams of going there. Hearing malicious rumours of supposed craziness running through the family and ashamed of his wife's black ancestry, Rochester begins to feel he has made a terrible mistake and starts to resent her and reject her, driving her deeper towards despair. When he suspects she has been unfaithful he is stung by jealousy and hatches a plan to punish her and keep her forever in his power.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a visceral, haunting novel that strongly evokes its Caribbean setting.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading Suggestion: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Buy Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys at Amazon.com.


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