Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quartet by Jean Rhys

This is the second entry in the Books I Should Have Read By Now Challenge and one of the books I'm reading for my Fifteen in 2011 commitment.

Quartet by Jean Rhys is another semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman whose husband is arrested, leaving her without any financial or emotional security. When a couple offers to let her live with them, she accepts the offer and is seduced into a peculiar arrangement that results in her gradual unraveling.

I don’t know if it’s because Rhys writes this story in the third person but there seems to be an emotional disconnect and one doesn’t feel the same intimacy or even compassion for Marya, the protagonist in this novel, as one does for Anna, the narrator of Voyage in the Dark. She marries a man she hardly seems to know and then is blindsided when he is arrested for selling stolen artifacts. She accepts the seemingly generous offer of the Heidler’s even though she doesn’t especially like them and has immediate misgivings. Even the conclusion is removed from the immediacy of her experience.

Because the story is written in third person, the story lacked the poetry of the previous one. I think this is an effective choice because I don’t know that Rhys necessarily wanted the reader to like anyone in the novel. Or if she did, she succeeded only in creating a group of characters who inspire little sympathy or admiration. Marya alone seems worthy of compassion but sometimes that shifts into pity, a far less empathetic response. I am looking forward to reading the next novel.

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