Friday, May 4, 2012

book review: the blue hour by lilian pizzichini

this is a biography of jean rhys who is my favourite author. or was. i am not sure now

my friend ellie gave me the book because i read her dissertation about jean rhys' work

i have read the following books by rhys: wide sargasso sea, voyage in the dark, smile please, sleep it off lady, good morning midnight and quartet. my favourite was probably good morning midnight and some elements of smile please

for a while my favourite quote was from smile please, it said "i am only twenty and i have to go on living and living"

walking home from work and looking at terrace houses in london i have often liked to think of jean rhys living in a similar one. i have thought fondly of drinking heavily like she does, drinking in paris in cafes, sleeping all day and going out all night

but when i was reading the book i just kept thinking about how annoying she seemed and how we probably wouldn't be friends unless we could somehow write to each other

i also was miffed because there were a few typos. and the biographer wrote in this overly sentimental way, as if she knew jean. it seemed really bothersome. but i guess potentially i could be blaming pizzichini for ruining my formerly favourite author for me by just writing vividly about her

the thing is that jean rhys' work was heavily influenced by her life, which can mostly be said for all writers/artists, i suppose. maybe it's written about so much just because her writing career was peculiar in the sense that she wrote 3 novels from the age of like 30-40, then, as people say 'disappeared into obscurity'

but actually she was just being a drunkard and causing mayhem basically wherever she went, borrowing money from anyone she could, acquaintences, old lovers, family members etc. she was so dependent on men, too, mostly father figures, which bothered me. she worked on wide sargasso sea a few times during her middle age years, but didn't actually publish it until she was nearly 70, when it was a smash hit, the most well received of all her novels, and so her earlier work had a revival

the biography is bothersome in the first section when she is a poor young married woman with her fairly scandalous husband, trying to get her first novels published: pizzichini constantly says stuff like "jean was before her time". i felt annoyed by the presence of the biographer's opinion, it was just too reverent

there's one thing she says that really rings true, which i have often thought with regard to rhys' work: "plots are not important because it's always the same story". i just find that whenever i try to explain what jean rhys writes about it's sort of stupid. like, girls in europe, drinking too much wine and being sad/silly about men. but the way it's written about.. just speaks to the sad parts of me

my butt hurts

despite all that, i guess there's some sort of beautiful thing about the way she was unashamedly mad in her later years. she lived for a while in beckenham which is a suburb in south london just past where i'm living, and also in exeter in devon, which is near where my auntie lives - always trying to find a connection

that's sort of the way generally i read things.. in a way that i could imagine it being me or somehow close to me, or about me, or i could be like that someday. even if it's bad

still, i suppose humanising someone is useful. jean rhys seemed like a cruel person a lot of the time.. and i suppose it's good to know that side of someone exists, more realistic or something


  1. i liked reading this
    'but the way it's written about.. just speaks to the sad parts of me'

    i studied wide sargasso sea for my a levels (two years ago now?) and taught the book for lit tuition. so much of it remains with me. i haven't read her other work but this post feels like a reminder to get down to them. lines from the book keep coming back to me, even now like

    'i am not used to happiness / ‘it makes me afraid' and

    'but at night how different even her voice was changed / always this talk of death / is she trying to tell me that is the secret of this place / that there is no other way'

    1. definitely get into it!! so many relevant lines from her work this one seems fairly apt: the damp trees and the soggy grass and the sad, slow-moving clouds - it's funny how it makes you feel that there's not anything else anywhere, that it's all made up that there is anything else"

      : )

  2. this is frighteningly similar to my life currently & you are beautiful.