Paperback (Penguin Modern Classics, 192 pages)
First published 1966; this edition published 2000
Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars
“In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys brilliantly and imaginatively constructs the girlhood and marriage of Antoinette Bertha Cosway, the mysterious madwoman in Jane Eyre. It is a romantic and tragic novel of spellbinding intensity.”
I did not like this novel.
It seemed, to me, to be an utter mess that I couldn’t quite grasp. And it’s a shame. Jane Eyre is one of my absolute favourites, and I was so intrigued to read an interpretation of Bertha before she lost her mind. But within the first few pages, I was struggling to keep interest in Bertha’s story. Perhaps it was because it isn’t a gothic tale like its predecessor – and the reason I read Jane Eyre in the first place was because it is a gothic classic. The setting is simple enough – and it isn’t often I find a story set in the Caribbean – but I think the reason it didn’t grab me is because I had preconceptions of Bertha’s life, and Wide Sargasso Sea threw those out of the window, far away enough that I couldn’t connect with Rhys’s novel.
I gave it two out of five stars on Goodreads because despite disliking the novel, there were one or two short scenes between Rochester and Bertha that I did find touching. But they were few and far between, and quickly evaporated, to be taken over by her insanity. I can appreciate that the reader is supposed to be confused by her state of mind – madness is madness, after all, and makes little sense – but it turned the tale into a bemusing mess, one that never really solidifies or becomes clear to the reader. What only worsens the mess is that I could never quite understand which character was which in the tale, and found myself caring about them less and less. There was no emotional attachment to this story, which saddened me, because I was hoping for something heartbreaking. I did not get it.
Maybe I should read it again, to have a clearer picture in my mind of who is who and what happens when, but in all honesty, I was bored by Wide Sargasso Sea in spite of its very short length, and I don’t think I will be picking it up again.