Three years ago, I wrote about favorite books I haven’t read. Sometimes it happens that, based on the presentation of a certain book (through a movie, TV series, through another book or an essay) or, more directly, on reading its first page or chapter I get a strong feeling that the book is important, that it’s going to be one of the treasured. As soon as I acknowledge this feeling, I leave the book aside. Out of fear maybe; maybe just because I want to save it for a better time, less stressful, when I would be able to invest more energy and presence of mind into reading it.
I always take into consideration the fact that the hunch could prove wrong – it being right so far does not mean it is unmistakable. So, there’s a regular dose of fear that the book in question will not be good, or that it will not mean anything to me, which, in a way, is what’s more important in these cases.
I approached Wide Sargasso Sea with reserve. Nevertheless, I was crushed. Such a small volume, so densely packed. Gloriously complex, mighty, disturbing. Devastating. Even though I knew the story, its end, in particular, I found myself hoping – for a little bit of sympathy and understanding, for just a little bit less stubbornness… It was a painful experience, I must admit. Something heavy lay on my chest, especially during the reading of the second part. In Antoinette’s words:
Such terrible things happen [..] Why? Why?
The opening lines, in which every word has its purpose, has a meaning, set expectations very high. The book is full of symbolism, there’s a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of parallels (a lot of foreshadowing through parallels too). It isn’t a book one reads once. It calls for multiple readings.
Instead of writing about what I perceived and understood, I want to note the scenes and sentences that left me in confusion, things that left me wonder.
- Mount Calvary convent. The girls are stitching and listening to stories from the lives of the saints. All of the sudden, this:
Quickly, while I can, I must remember the hot classroom. The hot classroom, the pitchpine desks, the heat of the bench striking up through my body, along my arms and hands. But outside I could see cool, blue shadow on a white wall. My needle is sticky, and creaks as it goes in and out of the canvas. ‘My needle is swearing,’ I whispered to Louise, who sits next to me.
Why does she need to remember it quickly, while she can? At what moment in her life is she remembering this? The use of present and past tense in the last sentence is stunning.
- The same conundrum here, when she’s talking about England with Christophine:
I must know more than I know already. For I know that house where I will be cold and not belonging, the bed I shall lie in has red curtains and I have slept there many times before, long ago. How long ago? In that bed I will dream the end of my dream. But my dream had nothing to do with England and I must not think like this, I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow. And snow.
- What is the meaning of the story about rats and moonlight?
- Antoinette’s husband is unnamed. Her father as well. Why?