The back says: Set against the lush backdrop of 1830s Jamaica, Jean Rhys’s powerful, haunting story was inspired by her fascination with the first Mrs Rochester, the mad wife of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
If Antoinette Cosway, a spirited Creole heiress, could have foreseen the terrible future that awaited her, she would not have married the young Englishman. Initially drawn to her beauty and sensuality, he becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to reach into her soul. He forces Antoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideas, unaware that in taking away her identity he is destroying of himself as well as pushing her towards madness.
I say: More than anything I fell for the language and atmosphere in this. There was this underlying feeling of menace that drew me in, even though it sometimes faded into that level of obvious foreboding that I generally dislike. The prose was frequently beautiful and it somehow felt like moving around in a haze, like I was standing right next to these characters and silently observing them.
That’s what I loved.
What I didn’t love so much was being left with the feeling of not really getting a gist of who the characters were. They felt like faint sketches, and I’m not sure if this is what Rhys intended, but they felt sort of flat. I was so intrigued by their present that I wanted more of their history – or at least enough to make me understand their choices properly. Maybe this is my not so subtle way of saying that I didn’t buy the reasons given and otherwise implied, but it just felt like there had to be more to Antoinette’s mother and I wish that had been explored.
The same goes for the marriage between Rochester and Antoinette. Nothing about it made any type of sense. Well, actually it did make sense, so I guess I just didn’t like the sense it made.
Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and maybe that aspect of the novel enriches it, but since I read Jane Eyre in my teens and don’t remember a jot about it, I’ll have to pick it again to see.
I have to say that I kept swaying between greatly disliking Rochester and pitying him, so it’ll be interesting to see what Brontë did with him and where she took him. The same goes for Antoinette; she went from having my sympathies and even admiration to just being pathetic. In a way I suppose that was her destiny, or so everyone in the novel would have one believe, but there was something about her state of mind at the end of the novel that was unconvincing.
A 4/5 because of the prose, the setting, the element of voodoo, and the emotions it invoked.