Never read Jean Rhys if you are unemployed and tend to overspend on late night visits to cafés. It tends to make you feel as though you are spiraling into depression, are old beyond your years, will never have money again, and despise the nature of humanity.
Published in 1938, the book chronicles the thoughts and habits of Sasha Jenkins, an Englishwoman (“L’Anglaise”) who has returned to Paris. She is poor, but spends her days revisiting old cafés, drinking, making casual – and disappointing – acquaintances. A woman obsessed with finding enough money to live comfortably on, she stoops to embarrassing lengths and rails against those who debase her.
Given a colour, this novel would be grey. Sentences now and then remind the reader that this is the grey that follows World War I, shortly before the Second World War and the subsequent French occupation. Life is meaningless, everyone is poor and grasping, youth is short and the devil is laughing.
Partially, one feels sorry for Sasha, regrets her sad history and the dismal world in Paris. The other part of me wants to kick her. Why doesn’t she go into the vital French countryside, and learn how to bake bread and grow vegetables? Perhaps if she removes herself from the influence of the city and her own self pity, she will be able to recover.
The most uncomfortable part of this book is how one can see the author painted on every page; the poverty, and the drinking. Jean Rhys’s heroines were often based on herself, and her books born out of her journals. This book is one of her earlier works. It will be nearly thirty years before she publishes her masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea, and finally earns the acclaim she deserved.