‘Jean Rhys The Complete Novels’ Book Review by Anne Frandi-Coory

Updated 28 January 2016

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I loved every one of Jean Rhys novels listed on the book cover below.  I have read this book several times and each time find something new in each novel.

Rhys’ books are semi-autobiographical,  intensely personal and  often she utilises streams of consciousness to convey to the reader, her subject’s deep sense of rejection caused by the callousness with which she is treated by men. The women she writes about suffer from depression, although they don’t seem to be aware of this, which manifests itself in their lack of energy, and self esteem.  With no hope of a steady income, the women in her stories drift in and out of relationships with men who have no real love for them but who none the less finance the women’s accommodation, meals and clothes. The men obviously expect a sexual relationship in return, for only as long as it suits their own needs.

Complete Novels Jean Rhys_0001

Lovers, Place d’Italie – photograph by Brassai 1932

Jean Rhys The Complete Novels (including the classicWide Sargasso Sea’) are superbly written with an intense pathos, revealing the hardships single women experienced in Europe in the early Twentieth Century; loneliness, reliance on brief sexual relationships with various men for their living, difficult landladies, illegal abortions. Men had all the money, all the power and of course, all the best careers. Women were used and abused, by single and married men. Choices for women to earn their living were severely limited, and often young women resorted to prostitution and if they were lucky and attractive, the stage. Rhys, under several guises, daydreams and longs for her birthplace, and childhood, in the Caribbean. The Complete Novels is enhanced throughout with magnificent and scene-setting photography by Brassai.  Rhys also gives us a vivid picture of life in the London and Paris of the times.

Leaving Mr McKenzie

Streetwalker, Rue Quincampoix – photograph  Brassai 1932

Quartet

Two Girls Looking For Tricks, Boulevard Montparnasse – photograph Brassai 1931

 

“I would never be part of anything. I would never really belong anywhere, and I knew it, and all my life would be the same, trying to belong, and failing. Always something would go wrong. I am a stranger and I always will be, and after all I don’t really care.” – Jean Rhys

portrait Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys, who was born in the Carribean island of Dominica on 24 August 1890, wrote her early novels between 1927 and 1939. Her friend and editor Diana Athill, who believes the five novels listed above to be her best, continues: “Then Jean Rhys disappeared and was almost forgotten. The second part of her career begins in 1966 with the publication in London of Wide Sargasso Sea.  The success of this novel led to the publication of her earlier books.”

older jean-rhys

Jean Rhys died 14 May 1979 aged 88 in Devon, England

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-Anne Frandi-Coory 28 January 2016

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My review of…  Wide Sargasso Sea

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