Monday, 17 November 2014

Wide Sargasso Sea

Wow, this book review was supposed to go out about two months ago but I somehow forgot to publish it... Oh well, better late than never! Also, since the majority of this book is set in the West Indies and the author also lived there/is from there (I forget...), it counts towards my Travel the World in Books challenge. Bonus!

This next book was one I bought on a day trip to Oxford to see my lovely friend Zoe, so you might have seen its face around my blog before. I bought it because I was completely intrigued by the premise; it tells the story of a character from a classic novel (Jane Eyre) whose past and whose perspective are completely unrepresented. Besides, I'm always on the lookout for brilliant but under-hyped books, and I haven't really read or watched any reviews of this book anywhere, so I was hoping that might be the case with this book! 

And the book is:

Wide Sargasso Sea


Jean Rhys


Modern classic, historical fiction

One-sentence summary:

Antoinette Cosway, Jamaican Creole heiress, struggles to come to terms with her fragile sense of belonging in a country where she is hated, and in a world where life brings her nothing but misery.


I had such mixed feelings about this book. I was so intrigued by the idea behind it - telling the untold story of a misunderstood character from a classic novel, in this case Jane Eyre - but I didn't quite know what to expect from the writing. Of course, I was hoping it wouldn't ruin Jane Eyre for me, but I was also really hoping for my perception to be challenged. And it was, to a certain extent.

A key theme in this book is the distance between the 'reality' and what reaches the reader, which I find fascinating as a concept. In Wide Sargasso Sea, you begin with Antoinette's perspective, but in parts 2 and 3 this changes, which means the perception of characters and events changes too. Even events that happened in the first part of the book become distorted, so you're not quite sure what 'really' happened. Of course, this 'reality' is complicated still further by the fact that the book is fictional, so the objective truth only exists in the mind of the author (if at all!). I suppose this was a commentary on whether objective reality actually exists outside of how it is perceived by people (sort of related to the question: 'if a tree falls in a forest and no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound?'). Interesting stuff.

Another thing that I felt really strongly throughout this book was a sense of the injustice of forcing people into categories based on arbitrary, inherited factors such as wealth, skin colour, or family reputation. Antoinette's life is profoundly affected by a past that she was not involved in and that is never spoken about, but which underlies how people perceive her and treat her to such an extent that she cannot escape it.

So intellectually this book was fascinating, and I had a lot to mull over while I was reading it. But on a personal level I didn't really like this book at all. Though the writing style was interesting and the descriptions were evocative, none of the characters or dialogues felt real to me. I just couldn't imagine anyone really saying any of it, which I suppose could have been aiming to distance the reader from the story as yet more commentary on the unreliability of perception (etc), but I just found it kind of frustrating.

Final thoughts:

As I said above, I felt totally torn about this book. I admire what the writer was trying to do on an intellectual level, but didn't connect emotionally (except during the fire in part 1). I guess I could say that I thought it was a good book, but that I didn't like it. Not sure if that makes sense, but there you go! Why don't you give it a try yourself?

Bonus: Earlier, I watched a YouTube video by kyliecoyote10 about how villains are portrayed in books, plays and films, focussing initially on Wicked by Gregory Macguire, which is definitely worth a watch!

What did you think of Wide Sargasso Sea? Do you agree with my review? Did reading WSS change your perception of Jane Eyre? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Great job getting another challenge book done. Emotional connection to the characters is pretty important to my enjoyment of a book so I am as torn as you are about whether to read this one. Hope you remember to add your reviews to the continent linkups!

    1. Thanks! This one was just by accident as I read it a while ago, but I'm still counting it :P It's so important to me too, which is why I could never call this book one of my favourites, though I still enjoyed reading it from a more intellectual standpoint. I added the review to the North America linkup :)

  2. Hey Rachel! Hope your week is going well :) I can see that you're already committed to a lot of challenges but would you care to take on another? I'm having a December Readalong along with Kirsty from the Literary Sisters and it would be great to find some more participants! We're reading Wuthering Heights, hoping to post about it in the first week of January - it would be great if you could join in too! Yorkshire totally counts as a country for your Round the World challenge! Or maybe not ... either way, would be lovely to hear from you.

    1. Hey :) As you can tell from the lateness of the comment (and the lack of new posts since this one...) I am having a pretty hectic time at university, so the thought of committing to another challenge is pretty scary.. But having said that, I definitely want to re-read Wuthering Heights sooner or later. Plus taking part in a readalong would be cool :D


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