30 May 2016

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

This post should have been done and dusted before now but a couple of outings made me forget about the laptop for a bit.  A group of us from work went to one of those escape room strategy events on Friday night.  Five of us were chosen for 'Prison Break' and the remaining four went off to try their detective skills with 'Jewel Thief'.  My group was locked in a prison cell to begin deliberating and searching for clues to unlock the cell door and then work on other clues that would unlock the main door.  The temperature on Friday was hovering around 30C so we were all a sweaty mess by the time we finally made it out of the room.  There was one clue right at the end that was so frustrating, and yet should have been so obvious - if only we could rewind that moment.  The downside is that there's so much about the experience you would like to share with friends but that would ruin things for anyone planning to give it a try themselves.  All I can say is that if you get the chance...go!

On Saturday, my husband and I went to see Love and Friendship; the latest Austen adaptation.  It's a guessing game as to how far away from Toronto some of these films will appear so we took the train in and made a day of it.  I've never read Lady Susan so the experience was all the better for the sheer enjoyment of wondering who would end up where and with whom.  The film is shot quite tightly so it's lacking those cinematic English landscapes that made Merchant Ivory films so achingly beautiful.  The trade off with Love and Friendship is that you'll spend more time laughing.  Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin is wonderful at playing the witless aristocrat.  Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan is gorgeous in her sweeping silks but I was thrown every time she flashed her Hollywood veneers.  No one in everyday life has teeth like that now, nevermind the eighteenth century.  At any rate, the film is a terrific respite from the superhero genre crowding the marquee these days and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Moving right along with my thoughts on Good Morning, Midnight...

'Back in Paris for a 'quiet, sane fortnight', Sasha Jensen has just been rescued by a friend from drinking herself to death in a Bloomsbury bed-sitter'.

I find it impossible to resist Bloomsbury as a setting so it was just the hook to reel me in.  And I'm glad, as the atmosphere of 'bare light bulb despair' isn't one I'm normally drawn to.  Told in a first person narrative, the reader is a voyeur into the life of a good woman who has made a series of bad choices.  Obviously Sasha's situation is more complex than that...men who were less than caring, marriage to a selfish and unstable partner and the death of their infant son have almost destroyed her and stripped away any confidence she may have once had.  In fact, Sasha isn't even her real name; she also wishes a drug existed which would make her invisible to people.

When a long-time friend gives Sasha a bit of money to lift her from her state of depression, she returns to Paris, a place where she lived for many years.  The daily routine of looking for cheap food and accommodation, and a place to drink continue, so we can only wonder if there is any hope for this middle-aged woman who thinks of drinking yourself to death as a 'bloodless killing'.

At one point, Sasha is wandering around Paris dressed in one of her last garments carrying any note of prestige.  It's a fur coat but any lustre has long since faded.  A gigolo named René notices Sasha in his sites and begins his pursuit.  Every bad choice, event, circumstance that has come before should have made Sasha run in the opposite direction but René is someone to pretend with.  René is in turns frustrated by the slow pace of his procurement of Sasha's money and intrigued by the complexity of her personality.  Eventually, even he is conflicted about what his next step should be.

It's a testament to sublime writing on the part of Jean Rhys that I kept reading.  And I should say, not just reading but riveted!  This woman drove me crazy at times and yet with every page I continued to root for a happy ending.  I felt sorry for Sasha and her spiraling condition.  The ending made me close the book and just let it lay in my lap for awhile as I mulled it over.  Then I reread the last couple of pages.

A colleague of mine wants to borrow my copy so I'll pass it on but I want it back.  There's so much more to glean from Sasha's story and several ways to interpret her thoughts and actions.  At only 159 pages Good Morning, Midnight would make an excellent book group read and Sasha Jensen is likely to stay with me for a very long time.

Jean Rhys
1890 - 1979


  1. Lady Susan just arrived here and I can't wait to go. Not that I can think of the title or the author right now, but I read a modern continuation of the novel a few years ago, and Lady S. was a pip. And now you've added Jean Rhys to my reading list. As for the locked-room exercise, I've had a few too many things like that forced on me for work-related team building to ever want to do them again, but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    1. You're more open-minded than I am, Audrey...those modern continuations are a no-go area for me. I simply can't bring myself to play along!
      Oh the joys of being forced to participate in activities...takes all the fun out the exercise, doesn't it. Why don't they understand that sometimes simply letting everyone mingle in a room with a table full of cakes can be just as successful?

  2. I'm hoping to get to the film sometime this week - but I'll be looking out for those teeth now!

  3. So glad you enjoyed Love and Friendship. I will be reading Wide Sargasso sea by Phys in September

    1. Now you've made me curious about September! Is there a read-along, assignment, you're a very good planner...
      I'm looking forward to reading Wide Sargasso Sea and regret all the times I left it behind at second-hand shops.

  4. Not read this but I adored Wide Sargasso Sea. When I took my degree I wrote a long essay on the novel and it was a pleasure to immerse myself in it.