Friday, February 20, 2015

#78 - "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys

After reading three consecutive 500+ page books, I enjoyed a well-deserved break, with the 156 page Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Not only was it short, but also very readable, and I suppose I enjoyed it somewhat.

Written in 1966, the book is billed as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. And I'd guess it is the first ever prequel, coming out over 30 years before "Star Wars Episode 1" created one of my least favorite cinematic terms/trends. For me though, it was just a book, as I haven't read Jane Eyre, nor do I know anything about the plot or characters. Now I just have to determine who in Wide Sargasso Sea is the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks.

The story is about a young white women, Antoinette, in post-slavery Jamaica. After suffering a couple of traumatic events in her adolescence, she grows up rather fragile, and unsure of her place in the world.

Before long she is wed to an unnamed Englishman, who is kind of a bastard, and treats her quite poorly; flaunting extra-marital affairs in front of her, and eventually keeping her confined to their bedroom. In true Victorian style, she slowly descends into madness before the couple leaves the Caribbean for England. As her descent continues, and her husband's cruelties are augmented, she decides to take her own life (although the book concludes before she goes through with it.)

On it's own, I would describe it as a rather haunting story of two people, circumstances of their time and place in the world, who are railroaded into a relationship neither desires. Neither one seems capable of even pretending to be happy, and they live out their depressing lives. Like their lives, the book is depressing right from the get go, and there isn't a bight spot in sight.

The writing is effective, and I felt pity for both of them, especially Antoinette, as they descended deeper and deeper into such a dark and gloomy place. And unlike many "descents into madness," this one did seem gradual and realistic.

But having not read the "sequel," none of it really held any context for me. After doing a little bit of reading on the plot of Jane Eyre, I find it quite an intriguing idea for a book, but one I wasn't aware of at all. To go back to Star Wars, it would be like watching Episode 1, and having no idea who Anikan Skywalker was, or Yoda, or Ben Kenobi.

Tomorrow morning, I begin the 79th book, Gravity's Rainbow, the book I have feared for over five years. But it must be read at some point. Wish me luck.

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