Book review: Wide Sargasso Sea

Now that I am an administrator for Forever Free Book club, there will be at least one book review per month here. If you don’t want to read a review, don’t read on! But really, it’s only one a month! 12 a year!

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Since the founding of the book club, I have been a busy little bee with a lot of behind the scenes work with Fiona, but I have managed to finish the first book – Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys! This is the only book that we assigned. I’m looking forward to next month because instead of being told which book to read, we are instead voting on a theme and then picking our own books within that theme. That means I don’t have to read what I don’t like. Or I can choose the lesser of the evils if I really don’t like the genre.

OK, onwards and upwards. Let’s get down to business and review this book. I apologize if this isn’t great, I haven’t had to write a book analysis/review since university and that was a few years back!

Wide Sargasso Sea is essentially a prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In it, Rhys tells the story of Mr. Rochester’s “mad” wife, Antoinette Cosway, as she is known. Rhys’ aim in the book seems to be to both vindicate young Antoinette as well as condemn Rochester, which, I thought, she accomplished to different degrees. Mr. Rochester renames Antoinette as Bertha, which acts as way to prove how domineering, arrogant and selfish Rhys has portrayed him. She definitely dislikes Mr. Rochester and paints a very different picture of him than I got from Jane Eyre. To me they seemed like two different characters, which I found distracted me from the story – I was struggling to combine the two men into the same being. Hard to do. Seeing as Rhys is Dominican-born, it’s easy to understand why she would sympathize with Antoinette. She makes you wonder whether she is actually mad because her inbreeding and mixed race or whether her circumstances have driven her to madness.

The book is split into 3 parts, in the first and third sections, Antoinette narrates and in the middle bit, Mr. Rochester narrates. In the first section, I got the impression that she was never “right”, there was always something off about her. Through the rest of the book it just continued. In Mr. Rochester’s section, the language was vague and ethereal and I found it hard to pin down what was actually going on, especially between Antoinette and Mr. Rochester. The third section was my favorite. It takes place in England, in familiar (if you’ve read Jane Eyre) Thornton Hall, and culminates in the iconic arson fire. There was something thrilling about experiencing the other side of Jane’s tale.

While the book was well written, and I enjoyed the idea of a backstory of Jane Eyre, I found this book a bit lacking. You can definitely tell that it was written in the heyday of feminism and this is very “in-your-face” and biased. While I’m not saying that feminism is bad (it’s totally awesome and I have nothing for respect for the women before me) I find that this is the kind of feminism which hates men and blames everything on them. In the words of someone else (I forgot where I saw it but I marked down the quote, stupid me) “Though it is beautifully written it is not a beautifully written book, but rather a well articulated attack on values which Rhys clearly fines offensive and archaic”. I agree with that completely and think it sums up the book really well.

If you agree with me, have more points to offer, or completely disagree with me, please let me know! I’d love to get other people’s opinion (which is why the book club was started!)

One thought on “Book review: Wide Sargasso Sea

  1. Pingback: Wide Sargasso Sea – Group Review « Forever Free Bookclub

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