Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight

‘A room is, after all, a place where you hide from the wolves. That’s all any room is’

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Jean Rhys was a sad woman. Ostracized at her all girls school. Ignored in her literary prime. A veteran of three marriages, all of which ended in ignominy or tragedy. I imagine she probably once stepped in a puddle that then soaked through her shoes and made her socks wet. The saddest act of all.

Luckily, all this sadness was the genesis for a writer who is a unique voice in the Modernist movement, a voice that is much easier to enjoy than some of her more successful peers. Rhys is more humble than James Joyce, more human than Ford Madox Ford and more accessible than Virginia Woolf. However, I must concede that sometimes she is a little too sad. And this is coming from someone who has spent hours moping through the back catalogue of Radiohead.

Sasha Jansen is a middle-aged English woman enveloped in sadness and obsessed with her image. Our protagonist (anti hero?) spends most of Good Morning, Midnight drifting through the cafes and bars of Paris, never settling in one place. A little like a faded butterfly with a hole in it’s wing.

As with much Modernist writing, there isn’t much here in terms of plot. That means that the writer must provoke an emotional response. If there is one thing that Rhys definitely can do well, it’s be emotional.

Her semi autobiographical protagonists are tragic but not always sympathetic. This juxtaposition ensures that Good Morning, Midnight is always fresh, always compelling.

Rhys’ all consuming sadness may be too much for some but such is life. For those of us that like to feel both ends of the emotional spectrum, there are few better writers in modern literature history. Jean Rhys deserved more in her life. We must honour her work now she is gone.

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