book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

May 16th, 2022

Hi Readers!

So I’ve been really enjoying my non-fiction this year, and I think I’ve discovered a new love for literary non-fiction.

| Published: 1996 by Vintage |
| Genre: Non-Fiction |
| Themes: Literature, 20th Century, Virginia Woolf |
| Length: 893 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

While Virginia Woolf–one of our century’s most brilliant and mercurial writers–has had no shortage of biographers, none has seemed as naturally suited to the task as Hermione Lee. Subscribing to Virginia Woolf’s own belief in the fluidity and elusiveness of identity, Lee comes at her subject from a multitude of perspectives, producing a richly layered portrait of the writer and the woman that leaves all of her complexities and contradictions intact.  

Such issues as sexual abuse, mental illness, and suicide are brought into balance with the immensity of her literary achievement, her heroic commitment to her work, her generosity and wit,  and her sanity and strength.

This was an incredibly detailed, well-researched biography. It’s admiring, but also a balanced and fair telling of one of the literary greats of the 20th century. Lee doesn’t put Woolf up on a pedistal and forget that she was a flawed human being, and she treats Woolf’s mental health factually and sensitively.

Learning about her life has left me with so much more understanding of her novels. How her relationships and surroundings influenced them, why she wrote them, and the impact they had on her. This book is filled with insights into her books and what is clear is Woolf put so much of herself into her writing. Her pain, grief, joy and hopes are all immortalised.

“Thoby haunted her: she perpetually remembered and reimagine him. She wrote three versions of him in over twenty years, as ‘Jacob’ in Jacob’s Room, as ‘Percival’ in The Waves, and as himself in her Sketch of the Past.”

There’s a reason so many of her books are set around the sea, during the Summer, on the hottest days of London. All of these things had a significence to her and would eventually work their way into her novels.

“Her diary, like her essays and stories and novels, blurs the lines between history, biography and fiction.”

She lived during one of the most exciting times in British literature, and I loved learning about her famous literary friends, the Hogarth press she ran with her husband (I had no idea she owned the house that published all of her books!), her romances and her (slightly half-hearted) political endeavors.

“Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries were poised on the edge of revolution.”

You don’t have to have read Woolf to enjoy this book (although there are a lot of references to Three Guiness, The Waves, The Lighthouse, Orlando, Mrs Dalloway and, of course, A Room of One’s Own). It’s also just an interesting look into a writer born a Victorian and growing into a modernist, living through two world wars, going through immense amounts of loss and battling with her mental illness all her adult life.

“Books are a school for character, she (Woolf) argues, because they change (like people) as we read them, and change us as we read. Books read us.”

What got me, was her unawareness of just how incredible her writing was. Multiple times Lee shared quotes from diary entries and letters where Woolf said her writing was ‘nothing’, “she couldn’t do anything right or anything useful”, she felt she was wasting her time. Despite her successes, she still had moments of self-doubt. Well, if only she could see how her works have stood the test of time.

And of course, her self-doubt could have been part of her mental health problems. It’s a known fact she died by suicide, but from the very beginning of adulthood depression and suicidal thoughts plagued her mind, and writing was an especially strong trigger for it. There’s a lot of references to suicide and depression, but I thought Lee handled it carefully “Virginia was a sane woman who had an illness”and it was very interesting to see how these were delt with by doctors in the early 20th century. Very interesting…

“Everything suddenly became unreal; I was suspended; I could not step across the puddle; I tried to touch something… the whole world became unreal.”

Another theme Lee follows is Woolf’s sexuality and what I loved to see was, despite censorship and laws, almost all of Woolf’s friends were gay or in gay relationships. They were also so open about it in conversations and letter corrispondants as well which I think is brilliant.

“She could not bear to catergorise herself as belonging to a group defined by its sexual behaviour (just as she didn’t want to think of herself as an ordinary ‘wife’ or as a writer of ‘novels’). She wanted to avoid all categories.

I now have the uncontrollable urge to reread all of her novels, starting at the beginning. There’s also a whole lot of non-fiction work by Woolf I had no idea was out there, so I’ll be looking to get my hands on them soon as well.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Still Life by Sarah Winman

May 3rd, 2022

Right after finishing this I was so close to giving it four stars, but I wasn’t sure and after giving it a few days I think it’s got to be three.

| Published: 2021, G.P. Putnams |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: LGBTQ+, War, Art |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 464 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

1944, Italy. As bombs fall around them, two strangers meet in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa and share an extraordinary evening.

Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner a 64-year-old art historian living life on her own terms. She has come to salvage paintings from the wreckage of war and relive memories of her youth when her heart was stolen by an Italian maid in a particular room with a view. Ulysses’ chance encounter with Evelyn will transform his life – and all those who love him back home in London – forever.

I wouldn’t have gotten through this book without the audiobook, which is funny because I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve listened to an audiobook. But it was available to borrow from my library and I thought I’d give it a try because I was struggling with the tone of the book and characters. An audiobook was definitely the way to go and I really like that it was read by Sarah Winman herself.

Firstly, this book is funny! It’s a certain type of humour. Very dry, very British, but it had me cracking up and that’s a rare thing to find in a book I think. There’s also a lot about art and references to E.M. Forster, so this really could have been a new favourite for me. It just didn’t end up that way.

It spans a long period of time, from WWII, to the 1960’s, and then back again to early 20th century, but despite the amount it covers, there isn’t really a whole lot of plot to this book. It more just dips in and out of the this tight-knit group of characters from London at significant moments in their lives. Sometimes this works for me, but this time I just felt like I was reading the longest book ever. There were parts where I was really invested, and parts where I just felt bored.

But the characters are captivating and beautifully drawn out for us. You definitely get a sense of who they are, and they became so endearing to me. They’re odd and eccentric, and so full of love for one another.

For a lot of people I’m sure that would be enough, but I just thought this book lacked flow, which was probably due to the lack of plot. It’s felt quite blocky and bulky and it just didn’t draw me into the novel like I wanted it to.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens…worth the hype

April 28th, 2022

Hi Readers

I really struggled with my rating for this. I kept going back and forth between three and four stars, and I would definitely give it 3.5 if goodreads allowed. I decided to give it a bit of time and all of the good points have stuck in my mind more than the bad, so I’m going with four.

| Published: 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Loneliness, Mystery |
| Length: 384 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

For years, rumours of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

This really wasn’t what I was expecting. Where The Crawdads Sing is insanely popular now, and from the way I’d heard people talking about it, I was expecting a Ruth Ware type book. Something like The Girl On The Train or The Woman In The Window. In the end we get a hint of that, but it’s more comparable to something like To Kill A Mockingbird.

This book follows a ‘marsh girl’ growing up from a violent childhood to a lonely adulthood in 1960’s North Carolina. One thing that will always stick with me from this book is how much I fell in love with its main character. Kya is abandoned very early in the book by everyone she loves and is forced to survive on her own, but she does more than survive. She thrives. She’s incredibly strong and I was rooting for her the entire time.

I loved how this book explored loneliness and violence against women. I most of all loved it’s message about the importance of education and how words, literature, can make a person flourish.

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

The only thing that kept this book from becoming a new favourite was the atmosphere and build up of events. This book constantly toed the line between historical fiction and thriller, and whilst the ending definitely took it over the line, there was no build up of tension for me, no uncontrollable need to read on.

But in the end this was a pleasant surprise. I loved the setting, Kya, and the ending blew my little brain. I can’t wait to see what song this inspired Taylor Swift to write.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Bride Test by Helen Hoang…i love romance!

April 25th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I am absolutely loving romance at the moment, and it feels like every time I read a new one, it becomes a new favourite.

| Published: 2019 by Berkley |
| Genre: Contemporary Romance |
| Themes: Forced Proximity, Autism, Vietnamese Culture |
| Length: 296 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

This is a sequel/companion novel to The Kiss Quotient, which I loved reading earlier this year. It follows Khai, a character we meet briefly in The Kiss Quotient, and Esme, a Vietnamese woman Khai’s mother wants him to marry.

I thought this was brilliant. Funny, addictive, fast-paced, slightly melodramatic, but I was here for all of it!

What I love about these books is that they’re romances with substance. They could be enjoyed for the cute scenes, the steamy scenes, the ‘finally!’ scenes. But there’s also the story of immigration, starting over, grabbing opportunities to better yourself and your life. Through Khai we also get autism representation and how it effects and impacts relationships. I love learning about Vietnamese culture, from food to language. It’s a romance with depth.

There’s a lot I could criticise if I wasn’t completely enthralled by it. But honestly, the things I’m sure some would see as faults; the pacing, the tropes, the miscommunication, I loved it all. I also loved how rushed the ending was, because it made it feel so comical. I couldn’t keep up with what was happening and it had me bursting with laughter revelation after revelation.

In fact this book had me grinning and laughing out loud so much! It was also emotionally impactful and completely unputdownable.

I loved this just as much as it’s predecesor. I love the way Hoang builds a story and I can not wait to read more by her!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Island Of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak… a new favourite

April 21st, 2022

Hi Readers

80 pages in I thought this would be a book I would want to push into everyones hands urging them to read it. Now I’m done and I’m not urging you, I’m begging you!

| Published: August 2021, Viking |
| Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Grief, War, Mental Illness |
| Length: 368 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. In the taverna, hidden beneath garlands of garlic, chili peppers and creeping honeysuckle, Kostas and Defne grow in their forbidden love for each other. A fig tree stretches through a cavity in the roof, and this tree bears witness to their hushed, happy meetings and eventually, to their silent, surreptitious departures. The tree is there when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, and when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns. He is a botanist looking for native species, but really, he’s searching for lost love.

Years later, a Ficus carica grows in the back garden of a house in London where Ada Kazantzakis lives. This tree is her only connection to an island she has never visited – her only connection to her family’s troubled history and her complex identity as she seeks to untangle years of secrets to find her place in the world.

The Island of Missing Trees was more than I had ever hoped it would be. Throughout the whole book I found myself choking up at the slightest of things and it had me sobbing through the last page. But this book didn’t need a shock factor to pull that out of me. There was no devastating reveal, no climax you didn’t see coming. All this needed was language and nature and healing to make this one of the most tug on the heartstrings books I have ever read.

grief has settled on the house like a vulture that would not leave until it had gorged itself on every last trace of lightness and joy

This book follows two timelines, and three POVs. First we meet Ada, a teenage girl living in London ‘now’ who’s grieving the loss of her mother and struggling to connect with her father. Then we follow her parents and their history in Cyprus. The third is a Fig Tree, who acts as a witness to all these events.

I’ve decided two things after reading this book. One is I love books written for adults, but have teenage POVs (when done well like this one is anyway). The other is I love books where trees are personified. Tree’s just make the most wonderful characters as they feel and sound so wise and ancient.

Shafak uses the tree as a symbol for many things, and one is the beautiful, almost comforting way she describes mental health. The fig tree is used to explain how mental health can physically affect a person. How it’s like when roots of a tree entangle the trunk and can cut off vital water and nutrients. It happens underground, it’s an invisible thing but, ‘can put pressure on the tree and it just becomes too much to bear’.

This book has many messages. Messages about war, history, memory, mental health, loss and grief, culture and family. But one that I found very significant was it’s message about compassion for something other than humans. The importance of trees, animals, nature to us and our ecosystem brought so much heart to the book and was written with so much emotion, and is very topical for current times.

The theme of war also made this book feel extremely poignant because unfortunately history really does repeat itself, and war has never been a subject of the past. Whether it’s Ukraine or the Middle East, there always seems to be a country that’s suffering, and I actually didn’t know that Cyprus had so recently seen conflict as this, and still bears the scars.

“Wherever there is a war and painful partition, there will be no winners, human or otherwise.”

There was also this beautiful scene where the tree is used as a symbol for migration:

Despite all this it would take me seven years to be able to yield fruit again. Because that is what migrations and relocations do to us; when you leave your home to unknown shores, you don’t simply carry on as before; a part of you dies so that another part of you can start all over again.

I haven’t given a book five stars in a while. But this one is more than deserving of every single one of them. I’m not sure a book has ever made me feel as much as this one did, and still left me with a sense of hope and lightness rather than just leaving me devastated and crying on the floor.

It’s an important book for our times. And frankly, I will riot if it does not win this years Women’s Prize.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Final Revival Of Opal And Nev by Dawnie Walton

April 18th, 2022

Hi Reades!

So… do you ever read a book, look at other peoples ratings, and think ‘what is wrong with me?’

| Published: 2021 by Quercus Books |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Music, Fame, Racism |
| Length: 368 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ |

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, a Black punk artist before her time. Despite her unconventional looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her one night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter, but as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens everything.

Firstly, there’s a lot about this book I appreciate. But the delivery didn’t work for me.

This is a very Daisy Jones style book, and although I wasn’t aware of the similarities before, it wasn’t long before I noticed them, so comparing the two was inevitable. I also think it had a certain Evelyn Hugoness to it as well with the interviewers connection to the singers, and I would be shocked if the author hadn’t been somewhat inspired by Reid’s two successes.

But this one has an obvious aim. To challenge racism. That message comes across clear and is done in an impactful way that makes this book worth reading for sure. I liked what it challenged, and I like the discussions it will start.

But the way it was done just left me feeling flat. The style really felt more like a magazine article than a novel, which may have been the authors intention, but came across for me as dry and created this wall between me and the story/characters.

The characters I also just never felt were real. Just to compare them again, Reid is able to create characters who felt so incredibly real I was googling their names just to make sure this band of this actress weren’t actually real people. Walton’s characters missed the mark for me as I feel like I never got to know them on a deep emotional level. I might have known where they were born, but I never felt I knew them.

This book will work for a lot of people, and again I appreciate the themes it explores so much. But the writing wasn’t for me.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Book Of Form And Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

April 14th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I’m really struggling to determine my feelings about this book. Overall it wasn’t what I was expecting, and a lot of it I loved, but there were some things I didn’t love so much, which I’m disappointed about as this was one of my more anticipated reads from the Women’s Prize longlist.

| Published: 2021 by Viking |
| Genre: Magical Realism |
| Themes: Grief, Mental Health, Coming-Of-Age |
| Length: 548 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

When a book and a reader are meant for each other, both of them know it …

After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. So Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher-poet; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

Blending unforgettable characters with jazz, climate change and our attachment to material possessions, this is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, humane and heartbreaking.

This book started so strong for me. It begins with the death of Benny’s father, and over the grief sticken period Benny begins to hear the voices of objects. It goes on to explore the mental health of both Benny and his mother, their relationship which becomes more and more strained, and the relationship we have with objects and the material world.

Stories never start at the beginning, Benny. They differ from life in that regard. Life is lived from birth to death, from the beginning into an unknowable future. But stories are told in hindsight. Stories are life lived backward.

I realise now I really didn’t know what this book was before I started it. All I needed to know was that it was narrated by a book that the main character could hear and I thought that sounded amazing. That’s not really the focus of the book though, especially as you get further into it. I think I was expecting something that felt more like The Starless Sea, which I didn’t get. But of course that’s not the books fault.

So what did we get? A lot. And that’s perhaps one of the issues I had with it. It’s very ambitious in the amount of themes and topics it discusses and I could go on and on about them, but it made for a very long 500 page book that for me could have done with being cut down.

One theme Ozeki wrote in an impactful way was children’s mental health, how it’s handled, and the effect it has on parents. Benny’s story felt quite YA, coming-of-age, and gave me Perks Of Being the Wallflower vibes. I just didn’t connect with Benny the way I did Charlie because Benny is a much more flawed character who I at times struggled to sympathise with, especially later on in the book.

His mother however I found incredible. I really felt for her as she struggled to deal with the death of her husband and becoming a single parent. It was heartbreaking to see her trying to do the right thing for Benny, and his increasing distance from her. She also has her own mental health issues including hoarding of material objects which is how Ozeki explores out relationship with consumerism.

But the moments that I loved all came from the book talking about being a book. I could read a whole book of just that. There was one moment when the book was talking about how books are used to waiting for someone to pick them up, they know we live busy lives and have learnt to be patient, and they bide they’re time until we are ready for them. That moment spoke to my soul.

There’s a lot to love about this. I think my rating comes from my weird lack of connection to the story. For a book filled with so much emotion and turmoil, it never drew out any emotion from me.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

April 7th, 2022

Hi Readers!

In March the Brontealong, hosted by Milena, Sarah and Mary, read Agnes Grey and I was so excited as this would be my first Anne Brontë novel! I didn’t go in with the highest of expectations as I know her second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is more beloved nowadays, and I’m glad about that because it wasn;t a memorable read for me.

| Published: 1847 by Thomas Cautley Newby |
| Genre: Classic |
| Themes: Governesses |
| Length: 153 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Drawing heavily from personal experience, Anne Brontë wrote Agnes Grey in an effort to represent the many 19th Century women who worked as governesses and suffered daily abuse as a result of their position.

Having lost the family savings on risky investments, Richard Grey removes himself from family life and suffers a bout of depression. Feeling helpless and frustrated, his youngest daughter, Agnes, applies for a job as a governess to the children of a wealthy, upper-class, English family.

Ecstatic at the thought that she has finally gained control and freedom over her own life, Agnes arrives at the Bloomfield mansion armed with confidence and purpose. The cruelty with which the family treat her however, slowly but surely strips the heroine of all dignity and belief in humanity.

Unlike the first novels of her sisters, Agnes Grey is a quiet, slower paced story with none of the gothical theatrics that make a novel exciting or memorable. Rather, this is a revealing and honest portrayal of a profession Anne would have known well.

Whilst this isn’t autobiographical Anne does draw upon her own experiences to write Agnes’s story, and the way she introduces the story does almost make it feel like we’re reading Anne’s diary, but with a few fictitious names.

Agnes is a younger sibling, and when hardship falls upon her family she wants to help where she can so she finds a situation as a governess. She starts the book quite naively with romantic hopes of the family she will be joining and the children she will be teaching. But those hopes are quickly dashed as she finds her employers self-important and mean, and the children spoiled and rude.

I found Agnes quite a frustrating character to read from. She had her good qualities but overall I found her to be quite a passive character who just kind of accepted how poorly treated she was. I also found her very judgemental and, dare I say it, whiny.

I couldn’t help but draw similarities between this book and Charlotte’s first published novel Jane Eyre, as both books centre around a governess. Charlotte’s portrayal is a more romantic one, with her situation being the one Agnes had hoped for. I appreciated Anne’s portrayal more, knowing she drew from her own experiences made it feel more honest and revealing.

It is foolosh to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.

But this book just didn’t feel as accomplished as what we’re inevitably going to compare it to. It lacks depth, it lacks character growth, and honestly, it lacks drama. I’m glad I read this for it’s revealing portrayal of a governesses life, but other than that, this is not a memorable book for me.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

April 5th, 2022

Hi Readers!

Since the success of her previous books, Rooney’s new releases have kind of come to feel like big events with a lot of hype and expectation surrounding anything she writes now. I wanted to wait a little while to let that die down before I picked it up myself.

| Published: 2021 by Faber & Faber |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 356 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them.
They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

There wasn’t really much I’d seen about this other than people saying it felt like a ‘Rooney novel,’ which made me both excited and hesitant. Normal People is one of my favourite books, but Conversations With Friends didn’t quite hit the same mark. Beautiful World, Where Are You, kind of falls somewhere in between.

I’ll start with what I liked, which was the friendship between Eileen and Alice. Most of their interaction happens through emails which I did like the content of as they discussed some interesting subjects that are very current like mental health and the state of the world, etc; although they did feel more like essays than emails and I couldn’t help but think this is more Rooney’s words than her characters.

And we hate people for making mistakes so much more than we love them for doing something good that the easiest way to live is to do nothing, say nothign, and love no one.

I would have liked this book a lot more if she’d focused on these two characters, both as individuals and friends. This is a pretty aimless and plotless book, and literally feels like a snippet out of their lives with no real ending, which I would have loved, if I’d felt there was even a little bit of character development. But it feels like we leave Alice and Eileen exactly where we left them (if not worse).

This is because she gives up so much space for two men who, lets be honest, are wastes of space. I don’t think this will be a view everyone shares and I can see why they were included. I just personally didn’t like what they brought to the page.

This was pretty much Rooney 3.0, and I don’t know how many more times I can read this story. I may not pick up her next one.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

book blog · Book Review

Book Review | Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

April 1st, 2022

Hi Readers!

Wide Sargasso Sea acts as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Or rather, a response to the treatment of the characters known as the ‘mad wife in the attic’. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason is little more than a plot device used for symbolism and gothic tension. Rhys does justice by her, and gives her a backstory both believable, and heartwrenching.

| Published: 1966 Penguin |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Themes: Gothic, Classics |
| Length: 152 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

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 Anoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideals, unaware that in taking away her identity he is destroying a part of himself as well as pushing her towards madness.

Set against the lush backdrop of 1830s Jamaica, Jean Rhys’s haunting novel was inspired by the first Mrs. Rochester, the mad wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Antoinette (Bertha) grew up on the Carribbean Islands, but life was far from idyllic. After the Slavery Abolition Act her family had lost both it’s fortune and status, and Antoinette and her family were subjected to hate and violence from those on the island who didn’t want them there.

Told in three parts we learn that Antoinette is more than what her future husband would reduce her to. It gives her a voice, and the audience a deeper understanding of her so called ‘madness’.

Not only that, but Rhys so vividly describes Antoinette’s childhood in Jamaica, and adds depth to the story by also making it a post-coloniel study of white creole’s. I never felt we were meant to sympathise with them, but it cleverly uses the violent backdrop to play with the themes already set up by Bronte in Jane Eyre.

‘that would have been a better fate. To die and be forgotten and at peace. Not to know what one is abandoned, lied about, helpless.’

She continues to explore the parallels between Jane and Bertha of feeling unwanted and out of place as children. The theme of fire is also brilliant included, as well as loss of identity and independence women had after marriage in the 19th century.

Wide Sargasso Sea shows there are always two sides to the story. It makes Antoinette a much more sympathetic character. The final part broke my heart and makes me want to reach into Jane Eyre and rip Bertha (and Jane) from Rochester’s grasp.

This is a must read counterpart for any Jane Eyre fan. For me, it almost makes that book complete.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X