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July Book of the Month: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

By Book Club on Jul 1, 09 01:00 AM

Have you ever read a book and wondered what happens to those characters on who haunt the fringes of the story? Or what happened to the characters before this particular story began? Or what happens after the book is over? Jean Rhys' late masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea is a book sparked into life by just such a feeling, a searing and controversial prequel to Charlotte Bronte's classic Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of the first Mrs Rochester, the "mad woman in the attic" who haunts the Bronte novel, and explores her troubled childhood in the recently decolonised Jamaica. Born into this oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. After their marriage the rumors begin, poisoning her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is driven towards madness.

Switching between narrative voices and alive with the ghosts of the recent past, Wide Sargasso Sea is a rich and deeply empathetic exploration of the life of a character Rhys felt had been misrepresented and misunderstood in the original. Such characters recur throughout Rhys' fiction and many readers have drawn parallels between this story and the feelings of displacement and alienation which haunted the author throughout her troubled life. Born in Dominica in 1894, Rhys came to England aged 16, working as an actress, showgirl and occasional prostitute before moving to bohemian Paris in the late '20s and beginning her writing career. Her early novels, often portraying women as underdogs out to exploit their sexualities, were ahead of their time and only modestly successful. From 1939 onwards she lived reclusively, persistently falling into alcoholism, and was largely forgotten when she made a sensational comeback with Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966 which finally won her the acclaim and recognition her writing surely deserves. She died in 1979.

Now it's time to see what you think. Good, bad or indifferent- give it a read and let me know...

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