Wide Sargasso Sea, a novel by Jean Rhys

The project is obviously compelling - a great unwritten story about colonialism and race, the dirty money underneath the fairy tale everyone loves. “Reader, I married him” but what else did she marry?

It was mostly from the point of view of Antoinette (“Bertha”), mixed-race daughter of a run-down West Indies plantation owner, who becomes rich when her mother makes an advantageous second marriage. When their estate is burned by a vengeful black populace they flee to her step-father’s estate where she’s set up to marry the youthful Rochester, who narrates portions of the book. He gets her money, but then learns about her past - that her mother went mad and she’ll go the same way. Rochester dithers and generally disgraces himself; she poisons him with a love potion. She’s taken to England confined, barely coherent, and finally sets the fatal fires.

I don’t get why it’s told the way it is. Antoinette is a childlike often disoriented narrator which gives the story a sparse dreamlike incomprehension of world narrated in simplicity that jumps from impression to impression but doesn’t seem to build a view of the world. It’s the disjointed narration of a disjointed person which is fine but feels like someone’s imagined version of that disjointedness - it feels like written convention and flirts with a kind of imperialist idea of a native’s childlike perspective. I’ll grant that Jean Rhys is from the West Indies and speaks with an authority I don’t have. But I’m reading something that reminds us of an untold story but feels over-familiar in the ways it imagines that story. It feels stronger in treating Rochester’s naivete, craft, and ruthlnessness. It feels closest to recognizably being let in on a secret.