This book first caught my eye last year and I immediately added it to my ridiculously long to-be-read list. The book synopsis was right up my alley, I just knew I’d love it, then I looked and saw that several of my friends that I’ve grown to trust their judgement on books rated it 4 and 5 stars. With growing excitement I set aside a couple of other books that I had started and dove into it.
In Part One our protagonist, Antoinette Cosway, describes her life as a child growing up on a run-down plantation in Jamaica shortly after the Emancipation Act was declared in the early 1800′s. As the daughter of former slave owners she and her mother were subjected to the pent-up hatred of the the black inhabitants which led to a lonely, friendless existence amid the lush, colorful beauty of the island where she found her only happiness. In an act of retaliation against the sins of slavery, they are attacked, their home set on fire and driven off the plantation to the physical safety of the town and later to a convent school until her step-father sells her off in a marriage to an “respectable” English man, the youngest son of a English nobleman who sees this marriage as his way of gaining financial security for himself despite his lack of love for his wife.
Part Two is told by Antoinette’s new husband as he journeys to her old home and succumbs to the hatred of the island residents towards her family and the innocent Antoinette. He even robs her of her rightful name and refuses to call her anything other than Bertha. Eager to leave Jamaica “he will make her pay for her ancestors’ sins of slave-holding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home.”
Part Three is told by Bertha. Here we see her without friends in his grey cold dreary home in England and aching for the warm, rich in color place of her birth. With ownership of her money now given to her husband, Bertha finds herself with no means of escape other than in her tormented mind.
The book is too short to give much more about it without a lot of spoilers so I’ll simply say that while I enjoyed it I should have loved this book, I really wanted to, but found in the end that I just didn’t. While the writing was good I felt it wasn’t great. Rhys merely hinted at feelings and situations that left me confused at times why so much hatred was directed to this young girl whose only sin that I could see was being born in the wrong family at the wrong time. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had previously read Jane Eyre and may revisit it again after I do so.
Originally published on www.chapterofdreams.com