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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

I was quite excited to finally get my hands on this book. I had heard a lot of good rumblings and reviews about it. I am a huge Jane Eyre and was excited to read about the back story of Bertha and Rochester’s life in Jamaica. However, I don’t know if it was the writing style or how I was reading it but I was surprisingly unhappy with the book. I do think though that the way I read, in bits and snatches when I had a free minute, contributed to  way I didn’t like it. I think that I will need to read it again to actually enjoy and fully understand it.

The book is written with quite a lot of Jamaican dialect, just so any future readers are aware. It is not super difficult to understand but it takes a little bit to get the hang of understanding the phrases readily. The book starts out with Bertha as a girl growing up with her mother on a plantation. It goes through her life, her friends, and her views on the world around her. In particular, it is an interesting study on the lives of whites in an area abundant with newly freed slaves.  In comes a man her mother marries and there lives subtly change. When the family is attacked, the move and Bertha begins to attend boarding school. Then the book cuts to the wedding between Bertha and Rochester. Of course, like all the reviews stated, Rochester is not directly named but anyone who had read Jane Eyre knows that it is him. Interestingly, Bertha is not actually called Bertha until much later in the book. After the wedding, the book follows Rochester’s thoughts for quite a while. It goes through his struggle on his marriage and dealing with his new wife, his struggles with his family, and what he is hoping to accomplish. You don’t really get a feel for Bertha much in this section, but again it may have been the way I was reading the book. A little bit further into the book you have other people intervening and complicating the marriage with stories, lies, and hidden truths.  Eventually, you get to hear Bertha’s thoughts again and how she is dealing with the different developments and people around her. I didn’t think the writing really reflected her descent into madness very well, but I am going to read it again to see if I missed the slow changing of her thoughts.

For any other Jane Eyre fans, I would recommend the book. It did give a very interesting view of a Rochester that we did not get to see in Jane Eyre. I would recommend that you take your time when you read it and really pay attention to details and not wait long if you have to put it down before you pick it up again. It also provides and interesting view on how whites were treated in Jamaica after the freeing of the slaves. I was quite surprised by how much of a picture it painted of the time period, attitudes, beliefs, and fears that were present at the time.

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