Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.
Jean Rhys is best known for her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, which told the story of Mrs. Rochester, the "mad" first wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. In Good Morning, Midnight, the protagonist, Sasha Jensen has been sent to Paris at the urging of a friend who is paying the bills, in the hopes that in the City of (Dark) Lights she may recover from her alcoholism (although why anyone would think that a good city to sober up in is a mystery to me). Perhaps she has simply been sent away, as she has become something of an embarrassment, and slightly mad, much like poor Mrs. Rochester.
Sasha wanders aimlessly from bar to hotel to bar to cafe to bar and back recalling, among other things, the unhappy end of her marriage and the death of her child. The reader has the impression she feels she ought to begin her life again, but is wholly unconvinced as to the merits of such action. Her companion through much of the novel is a gigolo and one is never quite sure just who is using whom.
This is a book of enormous solitude even in the midst of a busy city, and a very interior novel, dealing with memory, regret, anxiety and fear. Sasha is a woman locked in her own mind and her addiction. For all of that, Rhys deftly reveals her sarcasm, her wit, her lucidity, her insight . . . for example, she is keenly away of how she is perceived by others, especially landlords and waiters. It's both amusing and tragic.
The writing in this modernist/experimentally structured novel is quite beautiful. Consider:
"Looking at the pictures, I go off into a vague dream. Perhaps one day I'll live gain round the corner in a room as empty as this. Nothing in it but a bed and a looking-glass. Getting the stove lit at about two in the afternoon -- the cold and the stove fighting each other. Lying near the stove in complete peace, having some bread with pate spread on it, and then having a drink and lying all the afternoon in that empty room -- nothing in it but the bed, the stove and the looking-glass and outside Paris. And the dreams that you have, alone in an empty room, waiting for the door that will open, the thing that is bound to happen . . . "
It's the "bound to happen" which resonates loudest, for there is a great sense of inevitability about this book.
Perhaps it's not a book for everyone, but as someone who understands the appalling loneliness and anxiety surrounding alcoholism, I think Rhys has captured it perfectly. This may be a provocative statement, but books wherein the protagonist is both alcoholic and male -- "Hangover Square," "Leaving Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing," "Under the Volcano," to name but a few -- seem to be better received than those wherein the protagonist is alcoholic and female, with the possible exception of Brian Moore's brilliant "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne." Silly, of course, since there are just as many female drunks as male, and it takes a brave writer to capture the essence of such a character so fully.