Caryl Philips tells the story of Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams; a girl born in the British colony of Dominica at the height of the Empire who grows up to become Jean Rhys, the mid-century Modernist writer who penned Wide Sargasso Sea. Philips’s novel tells the fictionalised story of Jean Rhys’s life prior to the success of the Jane Eyre prequel, building up to an anxiously anticipated return voyage to her birthplace.
As I mentioned in my recent monthly round-up, I haven’t really felt like writing full reviews for things recently, especially given how much I read last month. I don’t like to leave so many completely undocumented though, and I enjoyed doing the last set of mini-reviews, so here are four more short reviews for some of the books I’ve read recently.
I got through quite a handful of books over the past few weeks, but I didn’t feel they all warranted a full review. Here are four short reviews for some of the books I’ve read recently.
Hiram has a gift. He can remember everything, everything he has ever seen and everything that has ever happened to him. The only thing he can’t remember is his mother. When she is sold into slavery, he is separated from her at just five years old. This experience bestows upon him a power that he is yet to understand the full greatness of. It’s not until he experiences a brush with death which urges him to seek freedom that he will learn the extent of his abilities.
Sofia’s mother, Rose, has spent most of her life in what she describes as excruciating pain, yet simultaneous numbness. Unable to get to the bottom of her illness, Sofia and Rose spend thousands of pounds, remortgaging their home in the process, to travel to the enigmatic Dr. Gomez in arid Spain in the hope that he may offer an explanation and some relief for Rose’s condition. Up until this point, Sofia had been sleeping on a camp bed in the storeroom of the coffee shop she worked in, after dropping out of her PhD program. A keen anthropologist, Sofia quietly studies those whom she meets in this little Spanish town, whilst battling with her own identity issues. She quickly becomes involved with an intriguing German seamstress, but struggles to determine whether her emotions are that of love or obsession.
Ella is drifting through her 20s, with the distinct feeling that she’s not where she should be. She watches as her girlfriend, Alix, succeed in her art and make plans to take her work abroad, while Ella herself fails to produce more than one painting a year, despite her similar artist aspirations. Instead, she finds herself bouncing from one care-giving job to another, privy to the most private moments of people in need. She takes on the task of caring for Jill, a client slightly younger than her usual charges who is left mentally diminished following a tragic accident. Ella is struck by the tenderness with which Jill’s husband, Bryn, cares for her, and the quiet friendship that develops between the two of them as Ella returns each day to help where she can. As she continues to observe their marriage each day, Ella finds herself questioning her own relationships with those around her.
Twin brothers Christophe and Joshua are about to graduate high school. Their feelings are mixed; joyful for the freedom they will finally have but apprehensive about how they will manage to make money to enjoy that freedom. Growing up in a poverty-ridden black community in rural Mississippi, the boys have few promising prospects. Gifted a car by their absent mother, they begin driving around the towns surrounding their home of Bois Sauvage, hunting for work. When Joshua gets a job working the docks on the Gulf Coast, Christophe becomes jealous and increasingly desperate to help contribute something to his ageing grandmother, who continues to care for the twins despite her blindness. He turns to his cousin Dunny and to drug-dealing, which widens the growing gulf between himself and his twin, who fears Christophe is veering down a path dangerously similar to that of their addict father, Sandman. Christophe’s choices set both the twins on course to a violent encounter with their father that could forever alter their lives.
Gretel hasn’t seen her mother in sixteen years. Growing up on a boat on the Oxfordshire canals, Gretel and her mother created a world of their own, with words of their own, and a creature they called the Bonak that haunts the dark currents of the river. Now Gretel is grown, a lexicographer who tries to make sense of the words of the real world whilst not being able to make sense of her own past. Too many questions are left unanswered, and she hunts hospitals and morgues searching for her mother and for answers that only her mother can give her. When the two are reunited, Gretel begins to trawl through fragmented memories and asks, what happened to Marcus? What happened to the boy that lived with us that winter?
Living alongside the violence of Pablo Escobar’s Colombia are two young girls whose lives collide in ways that neither of them will ever forget. Seven-year-old Chula Santiago lives in a gated community in Bogotá with her sister and parents, though her father’s work often takes him out of the city. She grows up in a ‘kingdom of women’, but her kingdom is haunted by stories of the car bombs and kidnappings that go on outside the walls of her community. Petrona is a teenage girl from an invasión, an impoverished area in the hills of the city, who comes to work as a maid for the Santiagos. Chula is fascinated by Petrona’s silence and as the two grow closer, Chula herself adopts this silence, keeping Petrona’s secrets as though her life depends on it. Petrona desperately tries to steer her younger siblings away from trouble, but she soon falls for a young man who sees her wealthy employers as the perfect target.
A short story that has become a staple of feminist literature, The Yellow Wallpaper consists of journal entries by a young woman who slowly descends into madness. The narrator is taken to a colonial mansion by her physician husband in an attempt to cure her ‘nervous depression’ through rest and relaxation. Sternly advised not to write or take up any pastime, the narrator takes to examining the garish yellow wallpaper in the room she’s staying in, soon becoming convinced that there is a woman trapped behind the florid patterns.