In the past when I’ve set myself a goal to read a large amount of a single writer’s books it’s only been a solitary personal challenge. But the Jean Rhys Reading Week which thoughtful reviewer Jacqui of JacquiWine’s Journal invited me to co-host with her was the first online ReadAlong I’ve participated in. With the wonderful help of Poppy Peacock and Margaret Reardon we managed to read and write our personal responses to the majority of Jean Rhys’ novels, stories and autobiographical writing.
The enthusiasm from readers everywhere who joined in the week has been tremendous with many people posting their own reviews of Rhys’ books, responding to our blog posts and writing their thoughts on Twitter with the #ReadingRhys hashtag & in our GoodReads Group. Reading the wide variety of opinions and responses to Rhys’ books has really helped me think more complexly about this fascinating writer’s output.
Here is a short round up of some wonderful responses to books that I covered.
I began the week writing about “Good Morning, Midnight” which Margaret Reardon also gave a fascinating perspective of later in the week. David’s Book World commented on the way memories emerge stronger than Sasha’s present reality which draws us into her true experience. Caroline at Book Word remarked on where the novel stands in Rhys’ oeuvre, what other writers have observed about it and the shocking aspects of the book. Karen commented on how surprisingly soothing this novel can be for someone dealing with social anxiety.
I posted about “Voyage in the Dark” which is based heavily on Rhys’ own young adulthood living in London. It proved to be a popular choice to read (perhaps because Jacqui reviewed it earlier this year as well.) Rough Ghosts remarked on the difficulty of Anna as a character, her believability and made poignant personal reflections about the subject matter this novel raises. Claire at Word by Word makes interesting remarks about Anna’s Caribbean heritage. Max at Pechorin’s Journal makes interesting remarks about Anna’s unique personality and depression. Grant at 1st Reading remarked how the reader is given moment to moment access to Anna’s thoughts and feelings and the novel’s enduring relevance. Abby King commends the way that the novel deals with complex issues such as depression, colonialism, gender and class. Simon at Stuck in a Book noticed how the novel fuses comedy and tragedy in a way that is particular to some interwar novels.
I next considered what is probably Jean Rhys’ most famous novel “Wide Sargasso Sea” – with its connection to “Jane Eyre” it’s put on a lot of literature syllabuses. Nargis Walker gives a fascinating commentary on the novel and compares it to “Jane Eyre” in an enlightening way. Joyce Carol Oates also compares these two novels in an enlightening way in this article. Cathy at 746 Books noted the deeply political nature of this novel. Whereas Lady Fancifull admires the beauty, fluidity and depth of the writing. In comments and in our GoodReads group some people expressed reservations about reading this novel since it uses a pre-existing character, but the general consensus seems to be that Rhys makes Antoinette so entirely her own this prequel is entirely warranted.
Finally, I posted about “Smile Please” Jean Rhys’ unfinished autobiography about growing up in Dominica and moving to England. It’s particularly interesting reading her straightforward account of her life as so many parts of it were embedded in her fiction. BiisBooks commented on how much lighter the stories in Rhys' autobiographical writing is as opposed to her darker fiction. Whereas, Marina at FindingTimetoWrite discussed the rawness and immediacy of her writing in this book.
We're awarding a special Jean Rhys prize bundle (courtesy of Penguin Classics) to Dorian who wrote this excellent article about his experiences teaching Jean Rhys to students and their reactions which really gets to the heart of Rhys' writing. I hope discussions will still continue on our GoodReads Group and Twitter. I’d like to continue reading more of her novels and stories that I didn’t have time to cover during the reading week. It’s particularly timely to be reading Rhys now as Penguin Classic is republishing some of her work. They’ve been a great supporter of the week. Thank you to everyone who has participated and a special thanks to Jacqui for inviting me organize the week with her. It’s been great fun!
Now for a big question: if I were to run another reading week what author should I choose? Any ideas?