Good Morning, Midnight: Jean Rhys (Penguin Modern Classics)

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Good Morning, Midnight: Jean Rhys (Penguin Modern Classics)

Good Morning, Midnight: Jean Rhys (Penguin Modern Classics)

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It reminded me of reading Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask (I love him but this one is by no means a favorite). She’s familiar with small, dim rooms like this one, though it’s been a while since she last lived in Paris. And in these pages is an evocative tale of human suffering, which is the fate that befalls many of us. He escorts her back to her hotel at the end of the night, but when he asks to come inside, she refuses to let him in. In it, the depressive protagonist, “Sasha”—observed by a London friend to be laid ever lower by age and drink—is sent to Paris for a couple of weeks’ rest on that friend’s dime.

I felt much pity for Sasha, after all she goes through, and this was the defining turning point for me when it comes to female protagonists. The book is devastatingly sad at times but there are moment of comic genius that I can’t be sure were intentional or not. This book was written in 1939, and having come through one World War, Rhys could surely see the world standing at the threshold of the second. until the café closes and she makes her way back to a room – one room or another on one street or another – they’re all the same, that is, none of them are much, just a cheap room. I had heard of this author from her well-known book Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel and a feminist response to Jane Eyre’s ‘crazy woman in the attic.This can be seen by the amount of literature concerned with these two essential elements of life, and Jean Rhys has conjured up an exquisite example of the stream of consciouness 'life in the gutter' tale of a girl lost and alone.

In an interview shortly before her death she questioned whether any novelist, not least herself, could ever be happy for any length of time. In her memoir ‘Stet’, Diana Athill devotes a chapter to Rhys that starts, ‘No one who has read [her] first four novels can suppose that she was good at life; but no one who never met her could know how very bad at it she was. However there is here also a sense of the injustice society does to women and Sasha’s experiences illustrate this.I know when I started figuring all of this out and reading 'Midnight' is like going back over old notes about figuring all of that out only without the look that stirred the longing for the allowance into that part of someone else and not with the crippling self doubt of my own that I get too damned often after I force me to go on being me (what else is there? Would I be able to penetrate her loneliness, through the darkness of our hopelessness felt together. I went on a tour there on my 24th birthday, which fell by mad luck on the day off at the end of my training week when I worked at sea). A woman who only serves for exploitation and mistreatment grapples with a painful erosion of self-respect. Sasha, the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight, incarnates the pathos of all forsaken lovers in the bleak narrative of the intimate experience of loss.

She says she’ll scream for help, but they both know she won’t because she doesn’t want anyone in her hotel to know she has a man in her room. Sasha's relationship with him is particularly ambivalent, since while she empathises with him as a victim, she also fears his sexuality and machismo. If she goes somewhere she is convinced that people are looking at her, and talking about her, and judging her.The novel is about loneliness; but, of course we are all alone, even surrounded by people and Rhys knew that. A kind caretaker looked after her during this time, trying to soothe her in the aftermath of giving birth, since Sasha couldn’t stop worrying about how she would financially support her new son. It is through this lens that we witness Sasha's world in 1930s Paris come to life, a vivid tableau of romantic suffering leading to an existential crisis. Rhys’ intimate meditations on the “improbable truths” and hypocrisies of life bring about sharp observations on the dynamics among classes and the correlation between physical spaces and social decline towards the complete annulation of the self. It didn’t take me long to know that, with the possible exception of Wide Sargasso Sea, I was reading them to have read them—to be done with them.

She invited me to meet her friends, and I did, only I turned up with a bottle of whisky, of which I had already drunk three quarters. Once in France, Sasha encounters random men in bars or on the streets—a couple of Russians; a young man, René, a French-Canadian who has recently escaped from his Foreign Legion post in Morocco; and a repugnant commercial traveller who is staying in the same hotel.Jean Rhys, CBE (born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams; 24 August 1890–14 May 1979) was a British novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica. In equal parts tragic and compelling this is an essential read for anyone who feels like drifting, drinking and dreaming. A great choice for a book group and an important one to mark out for older teenage women you are close to (daughters, nieces etc).

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