Suneeta Peres da Costa in the Sydney Review of Books:
I first fell in love with Jean Rhys’ writing through reading Wide Sargasso Sea. It was a love affair that changed my idea of what fiction could do, what it might be for, and about the faith one must keep with one’s art even under the most adverse circumstances. Perhaps this last lesson was one I needed even though – or because – my own career had started with such promise. I was nineteen or twenty then, studying post-colonialism at university and under the spell of more florid, overtly allegorical and political writers like Marquez and Rushdie and their popular brands of magic realism.
When I chanced one day upon a copy of Wide Sargasso Sea in Sappho Books or Gleebooks Secondhand, I was instantly transfixed by Rhys’ prose, which Francis Wyndham describes in his introduction as ‘that mixture of quivering immediacy and glassy objectivity’, and the psychological acuity with which Rhys treats empire, race and hysteria, as well as the power relations between men and women. I underwent something of a conversion then, acquiring and devouring each of Rhys’ earlier works and the last, a posthumous collection of memoir sketches, Smile Please, edited by Diana Athill.
Re-reading again now in this, the fiftieth anniversary year of its first publication in 1966, I can’t help feeling that Wide Sargasso Sea remains just as groundbreaking and heartbreaking. Doubtless, Rhys’ audacity and ingeniousness – and that which enables the novel to travel so well down the decades – was to take a canonical text like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and disrupt its imperial flow via a feminist and post-colonial re-reading.