Book Review for “Wild Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys.
Summary: “Prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Born into an oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty, but soon after their marriage, rumors of madness in her family poison his mind against her. He forces Antoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideals.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, The Caribbean Islands, England; Other Categories: Novella, Prequel, Classic.
I cannot tell you how many times people have told me that I simply must read this book. So, since I decided to read more classics, I decided to buy this one, and throw it into the next Classics Club Spin. But then I saw that the Classics Club dare for February was “Love is in the air” and I thought maybe this would be a good read for that topic. So, here we are… (and this is not going to be an easy review to write).
But, you see, I was a bit wrong about the love bit in this book. Yes, there is a marriage here, with no small amount of passion, but I’m not sure about love. Except… if you think about it, maybe there is some. No, maybe there isn’t a whole lot (if any) romantic love, but it is obvious that there are some highly emotional attachments described here. For example, there’s an emotional connection to the Island, and Antoinette’s home. While these may not be considered romantic, I don’t think I’d be far off the mark in saying that Rhys describes them both with a type of affection that might be considered love. By that I mean that Rhys evokes scents and scenery with her luscious prose that show how much she must have loved this location. In addition, Rhys also delves into the deep sexual attraction that the (unnamed) husband to Antoinette feels. Again, that’s not love, but lust, and yet there are times when we feel that he really wants to love his wife, but her actions push him away.
One of the master strokes of Rhys book is how she creates an atmosphere in which the mixture of many emotions, together with the descriptions of the rich, tropical surroundings, is slowly infused into these characters. It is almost as if all this creeps into their blood, and becomes part of the air they breathe, so that no matter how they might fight it, it eventually takes hold. While I was reading this, the closer I got to the end, the more I was reminded of the (very famous) short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In that story, Gilman has her protagonist become slowly obsessed with that wallpaper. In this book, Rhys does something similar with Antoinette and her sanity, but this also happens to the (unnamed) husband.
In the afterward written by Andrea Ashworth in my copy, she seems to suggest that Rhys changed the ending of Jane Eyre for her novel. I’m not so sure I agree with Ashworth on this point. Rhys cleverly ends her story very open-endedly, which I think was perfect. Furthermore, Rhys shows how Antoinette was so delusional by the end of the book that her imaginings and reality were nowhere near each other. In my own speculations, I think that Rhys intended us to know how Jane Eyre ends, and allow us to believe that the conclusion of that book takes place after the conclusion of her own story.
Beyond a doubt, what Rhys has done here is very special, and highly speculative, while also being strikingly dark, yet still dazzling with her prose. Even so, while I felt for Antoinette and her decline, I had mixed emotions about how Rhys portrayed the husband. This made me a bit less taken by this book, mostly because he narrates the bulk of the story, and I believe he wasn’t a very reliable one. He certainly wasn’t honest with himself and his own motivations. Obviously, with Antoinette being so mentally disturbed, she has to be an unreliable narrator for her own parts of the story. Since many of the other characters seem to contradict each other, the whole book felt like a collection of deceptions. By this I mean that it felt like I, as a reader, was made into the famous Alice in Wonderland, who had fallen down the rabbit hole and everything anyone said felt falsified, and self-serving.
This made me feel uncomfortable, and despite the true beauty of Rhys’ prose, and the engulfing atmosphere, I’m not sure I actually enjoyed reading this book as much as I was hoping I would, and it certainly wasn’t an exact match for this challenge. However, I’m very glad I did read it, because it has been on my mental TBR list for many years. All told, I can easily recommend it, and for me, I think it deserves four out of five stars.
This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.
During FEBRUARY we DARE you to tap into your inner romantic!
Simply read a CLASSIC book from your #CClist that you classify as romantic, glamorous, sexy or alluring. It could even be a book or author that you are predisposed to LOVE (because of its topic, its reputation etc).
Combine it with other challenges if you wish.
Do you DARE? If so:
- Let us know what you’ve DARED yourself to read during FEBRUARY in the comments below.
- If you want, create a post telling us why you chose this book as your DARE. Go into all the charming details about its LOVE factor and link it back here!
- When you’re finished, write about the book at your blog.
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- That’s it!
As always, our aim is to help you read more books from your #CClist in a fun, friendly way. Join in as little or as much as you like, it’s up to you. But for now, we hope you DARE to DARE!