Good Morning, Midnight
Penguin Modern Classics
This was actually the first Jean Rhys book I ever considered reading, as it was recommended to me by Jen Campbell when I did one of her poetry workshops. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get round to it. Though, as a matter of fact, I’m glad I read Voyage in the Dark and Quartet first, as it seems that Sasha in this novel, is an older, more fully developed version of the same character.
Here we find her washed up in Paris, seeking comfort in a routine of sorts; in shopping, picking up men and most especially in alcohol. Actually, Sasha has resolved to drink herself to death, but as I’m sure we all realise, this is a long-winded mode of escape. The slow suicide of chronic alcoholism is not a quick fix.
Similarly, the hurts, losses and humiliations that have made Sasha the person she is, have taken a lifetime to accumulate:
‘What happened to you, what happened? he says. ‘Something bad must have happened to make you like this?’
‘One thing? It wasn’t one thing. It took years. It was a slow process.’
Sasha is afraid. She is afraid of being exposed. She is afraid of being destroyed by her shame.
‘You want to know what I’m afraid of? All right, I’ll tell you… I’m afraid of men […] I’m very much afraid of the whole human race. … Afraid of them? I say. ‘Of course I’m afraid of them. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a pack of damned hyenas?’
This is a novel full of pain; pain suppressed, numbed by brandy or absinthe, only to resurface again when the effects wear off. As such, it is a wonderful piece of writing. I found it desperately sad and extremely well done. Especially how Rhys manages to weave in Sasha’s backstory between drinking sessions and taxi rides with inappropriate men. It is chaotic, but never clumsy.
I loved two thirds of this novel. Does anyone else think Jean Rhys novels have a tendency to end in an unsatisfactory manner? If so, I’d love to hear. Or is it just me? I’m not sure why, but they feel forced to reach a conclusion.
All the same – she is my favourite.