book reviews by Althea

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys ***

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This is the part where I have to admit that I’ve never read Jane Eyre.

I did, however see the 1993 ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ film, which I liked very much, although the title confused me rather a lot, as no sea is really featured in the story. I thought reading the book would clear that up. It didn’t. The book is much, much less sexy than the film.

I picked the book up because I was visiting Dominica, where it is set. This may or may not have been wise. While it was very interesting to see the depictions of the island, due to the historical time period and the theme of the story it’s not really a very favorable depiction. Well, nothing in the book is particularly positive.

When slavery is ended on Jamaica, many black citizens rise up against their former masters, showing a hostility they previously had to suppress. The young woman Antoinette, a white heiress, is shaken by this upheaval. When she has the opportunity to marry a handsome Englishman, she jumps at the opportunity, and travels with him to her childhood home on Dominica.

However, her marriage is quickly revealed to be a mistake. Her husband primarily married her for her money. When poison-pen letters further influence him against her, with tales of madness in her family, his uncaring turns to manipulative cruelty. If Antoinette wasn’t mentally unstable to start with (a definite question) she unquestionably becomes so, as her husband steals even her identity, and she has nowhere to turn…

It’s a very strong, powerful novel – but not a particularly pleasant one. It reminded me a bit of Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ in themes, and some details.


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