Today is the start of Jean Rhys Reading Week, a blogging event hosted by JacquiWine and Lonesome Reader. I’m joining in because Rhys is one of the (many) holes in my reading history. Up until this point, she was really just a name to me. But now… now, she’s someone I want to read again, and whom I could see becoming a favourite writer.
The Jean Rhys book that I chose to read first was Good Morning, Midnight (1939), mainly because it had recently been reissued as a Pocket Penguin, and I need only the flimsiest pretext to buy one of those… I’ll write more on the book itself later in the week; but I just wanted to start by sharing one of the passages that really stood out to me. Rhys’s protagonist, Sasha, is alone and adrift in Paris; here, she imagines walking through the city:
Walking in the night with the dark houses over you, like monsters. If you have money and friends, houses are just houses with steps and a front-door – friendly houses where the door opens and somebody meets you, smiling. If you are quite secure and your roots are well struck in, they know. They stand back respectfully, waiting for the poor devil without any friends and without any money. Then they step forward, the waiting houses, to frown and crush. No hospitable doors, no lit windows, just frowning darkness. Frowning and leering and sneering, the houses, one after another. Tall cubes of darkness, with two lighted eyes at the top to sneer. And they know who to frown at. They know as well as the policeman on the corner, and don’t you worry…
I love the progression of the imagery in that paragraph: the way that it moves from innocuous description of houses to malevolent personification; and how the language itself breaks down into rhythmic patterns (“frowning and leering and sneering”) to reflect the narrator’s heightened mood. And this is far from the only instance of powerful writing in Good Morning, Midnight – but that’s a post for another day…
Book details (Foyles affiliate link)
Good Morning, Midnight (1939) by Jean Rhys, Pocket Penguin paperback
12th September 2016 at 10:17 am
Wonderful. I’m so pleased to hear that Rhys has the potential to become one of your favourite writers – my work here is done. 🙂
Her use of imagery is so striking. There’s something similar to this in Voyage in the Dark where she makes excellent use of recurring imagery to heighten the feeling of exclusion from society: ‘dark houses all alike frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together.’ At one point, the central protagonist, (Anna) feels as if she is trapped in a room where the walls appear to be closing in on her, an image which adds to a sense of claustrophobia in the book.
12th September 2016 at 10:35 am
“and don’t you worry…”
How marvellously threatening. It’s a very Rhysian quote, though my iconic Rhys scenes always seem to involve a woman sitting alone in a cafe being looked at askance by people who don’t approve of women sitting alone in cafes.
And yes, there is a tremendous sense of momentum in that paragraph, a gathering hostility and bare coherency.
13th September 2016 at 8:31 am
I have large gaps in my Rhys reading too having only Wide Sargasso Sea under my belt. But I just didn’t have time to join the reading week this year so glad I can rely on others to post insights on other books they I can then follow up,when time allows