Wide Sargasso sea

This was the latest book we read in our book club.

I’m not sure that I’m the best person to write about this book, as I didn’t really appreciate or enjoy the book quite as much as the other members of our group. This book is a classic (always scary territory) that has been studied and picked over for years and whilst that isn’t usually an issue for me, I came to the book like it was any other. Written in 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea is set in the post colonial West Indies. It tells the story of a white Creole heiress who is caught in the middle of seismic changes brought about by the abolition of slavery and the subsequent social turmoil and human displacement.

I’ve got to be honest, this book didn’t grab me.

I didn’t care that much about the characters and whilst I enjoyed the mood created by the author jean Rhys, it seemed like I was missing out on something. At the book club meeting I discovered that this book was written as a literary companion piece to Charlotte Bronte’s famous Jayne Eyre novel and shares characters like Mr Rochester. Some of the members in the group found this interesting and clever, having read both books but that’s the thing, you really needed to have read both and I hadn’t.

Positives in the book for me was that the book possesses a dark heart and there is something sinister and oppressive lurking beneath the surface. It has an unsettling atmosphere and the constant switching of narrator adds to this tone. It’s a very brief book too – which has many positives in our busy lives – and I always think that an author that can use brevity and still paint a very lucid picture is a very good writer.

Make no bones about it, Jean Rhys is an authoritative author who wears her literary power lightly delivering powerful imagery in her sparse prose. But the book glowed and sparked only a little for me and instead of the ominous build to an explosive climax, it fizzled out quietly. It felt also like this was her plan too: not for her the dramatic denouement but a low-key, depressive ending in keeping with the central character’s contrary nature.

So — a book I kind of enjoyed but actually felt a little short-changed by in the end. More importantly for us, it delivered a lively discussion around the table with scores ranging from two to seven. With a couple of new faces in the group, it made for a thought-provoking evening but even after all was said and done, I still felt my initial view was vindicated.

My score: 4 / 10

Next book: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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4 thoughts on “Wide Sargasso sea

  1. I’ve read Jane Eyre, and I still didn’t like Wide Sargasso Sea. I really wanted to like it – but no. Hurrah for Great Expectations though, one of my favourite books ever.

  2. I was on the other side of the table to Phil on this one (7 out of 10) in that I really enjoyed it, helped I think in that I had a rare chance to read it in one sitting which helped with the different perspectives and voices in the book.

    I really liked the idea of taking a minor character from one book (the mad woman in the attic) and giving her a cohesive back story. I’ve not read Jane Eyre but this didn’t matter to me.

    The book is incredibly sparsely but beautifully written and I really like that style and dealt with some major themes – historical, political, gender, mental health, oppression in it’s many forms and identity were just some. To do this so deftly in an interwoven story says much about the skill of the writer and the brilliance of this book. The underlying feeling of tension and unease was writ large through the book and overall I thought it was an interesting and enjoyable read. Top stuff.

  3. Maybe I should give this a go. I wasn’t overly enamoured by Jane Eyre (although I enjoyed the latest film version) – nor was I that taken with the TV adaptation of Wide Sargasso Sea, But maybe this is the missing piece of the puzzle I WILL like!

    I’ll be interested to hear what the group thinks of Great Expectations – I really like it and it’s one of the few Dickens books I’ve read several times. Such a mixed bag of adaptations, but none of them beat David Lean’s 1946 version. Dare I risk the latest incarnation?

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