Jean Rhys

In her forward to The Complete Novels, Diana Athill stated that Rhys was always preoccupied by getting it right : invoking the truth as much as possible. And yet no matter how precise the language, evocative the mood, authentic the speech, ¬†Rhys fails at truth since she fails to develop a most important characteristic in her neurasthenic heroines, which were all based on herself. And that truth is- her writing was her saving grace. Rhys lived a writer’s life, inasmuch as it was alcohol fueled and tawdry, and that in itself didn’t make her quite the hopeless, helpless, pathetic creature she depicts in these short novels.

Taken from first to last:

1. Voyage in the Dark: Anna leaves the Caribbean, becomes a chorine, then the mistress of a older man who she doesn’t particularly like, though she certainly likes the security and allowance he provides. After she commits the inexcusable faux pas of socially embarrassing him, he dumps her, and she fails to do anything to uplift herself going from one meaningless sexual encounter to another. This was Rhys’ first work, although the manuscript was put away for years before she returned to it. The language is gorgeous, the insights into humanity and hypocrisy, and even the highly unpleasant aspects of her own character. are remarkable.

2. Quartet: A lightly veiled account of Rhys’ affair with Ford Maddox Ford, in which she comes off as badly as he does. This is the weakest of the five books, and though the heroine is supposed to be the victim of the callous man in question and his nasty wife, she appears to be one of those poor, poor victims to whom everyone is soooo nasty, while in reality she creates havoc wherever she goes.

3. After Leaving Mr McKenzie: Penniless Julia, after leaving the boorish Mr McKenzie goes back to London in search of another protector. Here the heroine is older, the story more insightful, and there are some wonderful passages between Julia and her sister who has sacrificed her youth to look after their ailing mother while Julia lived in Paris.

4. Good Morning, Midnight: The best of the four first novels. There’s no pity here. She is what she is -and finally we get a glimpse of the fact that she did work, that her marriage failed and her child died, that she did not rely exclusively on men (whom she barely liked) to supply her with money in exchange for sexual favors, and that jobs went terribly badly for her quite often because she is sensed to be an outsider, a weakling, one to whom bad things can happen and often do.

Back in Paris, Sasha, after a stint of trying to drink herself to death in London, recalls the sad and horrible events in her life that have brought her so low while dallying with a young man who is in as a precarious potion as she.

5. The Wide Sargasso Sea: A masterpiece. I have read it many times since I discovered it in 1993 following release of the eponymous film. It is the tale of the first Mrs. Rochester, the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre. It’s all here: the neurasthenia that developed of neglect and poverty in childhood, the blighted family and racial history of the island, the unloving mother, the relatives that seek to fob off the heroine by marrying her to a stanger, the cold unloving Englishman who shatters her and brings her so low.

This time, the heroine, Antoinette, is not so helpless, though she is certainly mad, and she exacts her revenge in time, as we all know. Stunning language, evocative settings, honest depiction of race relations are wrapped in a beautiful, mysterious, otherworldly text that always leaves me wondering why the Englishman couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept Antoinette’s open physical love and turned his back on her and the Edenic garden she offered, which was then lost to him forever. If I have a quibble here it is very minor, and that is Rochester’s voice is a bit too poetic for such a one as himself.
I bought this book for $1.99 and it is in great shape -easily the best bargain on Additionally the five books in one are a wonderful way to view the development of this writer.

Cookbook Review

‘Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of a 65,000 acre cattle ranch on the edge of the Wasatch Range in a valley called Strawberry. That’s where my father was a hired hand and our family lived for most of the summers … in a two room cabin that sat proudly in an open meadow, miles from our nearest neighbor. We were completely off the grid.’ Thus begins Kenvin, an Artist’s Kitchen, Kenvin Lyman’s cookbook and memoir.

There is something intensely magical about a rural childhood lived prior to mechanization and industrial farming. It’s where the land meets the imagination and the deepest appreciation for nature and life begins. Out of this, sometimes, with very sensitive and talented people, true art is born.

Through friends of friends, I became aware of Kenvin Lyman’s work on Facebook. I began following his page, The Utah Kid, because I was charmed by his artwork: beautiful illustrations of the rural landscape and of the table. I soon realized that these works would appear in a cookbook, and eagerly anticipated its publication, which was delayed by Mr Lyman’s untimely and tragic death. I bought and finally received the book this past Saturday and have been pouring over it since.

This is so much more than a cookbook. It’s a beautiful work of art, a memoir, a philosophy of natural farming and animal husbandry, a poem dedicated to the land and its bounty, and an elegy for the loss and disappearance of nature, and all its beauty, to suburban sprawl. It is also a celebration of family, love, friendship and good times, of the garden, food that is locally grown and organic, and simple, beautiful ingredients cooked to maximize their greatest potential and flavor.

The beginner will find the recipes easy to follow, there is nothing intimidating here. And the experienced cook will appreciate the simplicity and intensity of the ingredients and will be able to make substitutions and changes, if and when necessary, to render the recipes their own. Though I am an experienced cook, I have always struggled with wine pairings–so I was thrilled to see that Mr Lyman made beverage suggestions for almost every recipe.

I’ll close with a ¬†quote: ‘Until the federal farm bill is untangled from its political web of favoritism and shortsighted goals, the small farmer in America is in real jeopardy of extinction, and the local food movement is largely a romanticized fantasy struggling to survive on a badly slanted playing field against much larger players.’ Thankfully, Mr Lyman followed his passion, despite the challenges and meager financial rewards to bring us this amazing work.