Today, after a little over a week battling with Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, I finally finished it, and with it my 4th book of the 2016 Reading Challenge. Despite its meagre size, I found it decidedly difficult to get into.
Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys
Favourite character: Mr. Rochester
Category: #37 A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
“So I shall never understand why, suddenly, bewilderingly, I was certain that everything I had imagined to be truth was false.”
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is an unofficial prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Set in the beautiful paradise of the Caribbean, it is told from the perspectives of Antoinette and “Mr. Rochester”. The novel opens with Antoinette as a child, and much like Jane Eyre, sees her navigate into adulthood where her path inadvertently collides with Mr. Rochester. Since the novel is told from varying perspectives, it often appears jumpy and disjointed (at times it is initially unclear whose voice the reader is hearing).
Characterisation is of particular importance in the novel, especially in the case of Mr. Rochester. Unlike in Jane Eyre, in Wide Sargasso Sea Mr. Rochester is without question the antagonist: he is obnoxious and self-righteous and the reader has little to no sympathy for him, yet despite his flaws, he is easily the most interesting character.
One of the main themes that flows through the novel is entrapment. Since the book is set post-colonialism, there is an interesting clash between the native cultures and the beliefs held by settlers, and by definition Antoinette and Mr. Rochester (perhaps this is the beginning of their turbulent relationship).
The use of imagery and the senses is extraordinary: the reader is transported to a lush, green tropical environment. Wide Sargasso Sea is shaped by the relationship between nature and emotion, much like Jane Eyre, although the intensity is heightened in this book.
The originality behind telling “Bertha’s” (aka Antoinette) story was interesting in theory, but I found that I didn’t care for the character at any point during the novel.
Until I read this novel, I’d never read a book about Caribbean postcolonial culture, and that in itself was interesting. I enjoyed reading about the racial segregation and prejudice which occurred even amongst the natives. I also learnt about obeah, a term I had never come across until reading Wide Sargasso Sea, so in terms of learning about culture it was eye opening. I just wish the plot was more enjoyable.
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