Sunday, December 5, 2010

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

When Simon at Stuck in a Book invited readers to join him in reading novellas this weekend I thought I knew exactly what I would choose. The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne-Jewett came immediately to mind, but when Saturday rolled around I wasn't in the mood for it and decided to read Good Morning, Midnight instead.
At 158 pages this slim volume relates the story of Sophia Jansen, a woman approaching middle age. Set in 1930's Paris, we follow Sophia, or Sasha as she has renamed herself, through two weeks in the City of Light. Considered an outcast, Sasha has rejected convention for a life of abandonment and hustling for money. At odds with her family back in England she is frequently depressed and has become an alcoholic. Told in the first person, Sasha rambles along through her days, providing the reader with flashbacks into her youth and giving us insight into her psyche. The narrative is immediate, personal and painful to read. Sasha is paranoid, mistrustful and obsessed with her appearance in an almost phobic way. When she meets a young gigolo all of her fears meld into a mess of self-hatred and despair.

This novella reminded me of The House of Mirth. Sasha's plight is similar to that of Lily Bart; they're both aging, single,forced to behave against their natures to survive and have limited "decent" options available beyond marriage and motherhood. Though similar in story, in style this book is light years away from Wharton. Rhys uses sharp, assertive language, her pacing is chaotic and her sentences stumble across the page. I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, but don't remember it very well so I was unaccustomed to Rhys's writing. After reading Good Morning, Midnight I want to definitely read more of her works as I find her writing to be like a cold bucket of water thrown in your face ~ bracing, eye-opening and heart-stopping. 

On a side-note ~ if you decide to read this and don't know French have Google translator at the ready as there are many important passages that are written in French.


  1. I ve this next up strangely enough decide to carry my novella reading to weds as I m not back to work til thurs ,this will be my first book by Jean Rhys ,strange you said it was like house of mirth that is a book every one says you should read too and I ve not ,all the best stu

  2. I only know her Wide Sargasso Sea. This sounds like a wonderful read! And thanks for the French advice. Mine is more than a bit rusty.

  3. Stu - I look forward to reading your thoughts on this.
    Lifetime Reader - My French is non-existent so a translator was a necessity. I didn't want to miss anything!

  4. I picked this up in a bookshop the other week and almost bought it because I loved The Wide Sargasso Sea. After reading the blurb and knowing something of the life of Jean Rhys I decided it might be too depressing. Enjoyed your review.