“And I’m very much afraid of the whole bloody human race”: ‘Good Morning, Midnight’ by Jean Rhys

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Sasha Jensen has returned to Paris – the city of her happiest moments, but also of her most desperate and traumatic. She is haunted by the past that predatorily lies in wait for her in the cafes, restaurants and hotel rooms of Paris – all waiting to consume her and blur the lines between fiction and reality. Every night is a catastrophe for Sasha, who frequently finds herself crying her way through the pleasantries of the evening until she can finally retreat back into the darkness of the day. Rhys’s stream of consciousness style captures the experience and thoughts of a lonely human, alienated by a cruel and hypocritical society. That is, until she is picked up by a hopeful young man who allows her to believe that she is still capable of love, desire and emotions within the cold hard world around her. Good Morning, Midnight is the story of a transformative journey that is tinged with bittersweet sorrow and painful triumph and elation.

Sasha’s narrative is terrifyingly frank, as she slices through human illusions and articulates the brutal truth that society is a nothing more than a “pack of hyenas”; intent upon appeasing their egos and cutting through their own insecurities by perpetuating extreme and unrelenting cruelty to others. Sasha teaches herself to expect nothing, especially not kindness in a world that devours the soul and ricochets violently between morbid delight and content misery. Instead, she resolves to dye her hair blonde and buy a new hat. As she experiences life subconsciously, she drinks non-stop and thinks of fashion before eating, but Sasha is not superficial in her self-neglect: these are the faint whispers of a woman about the go over the edge.

This is not to say that the novel is an entirely and overwhelmingly bleak experience. Rhys’s wry humour is reminiscent of Beckett’s and Sasha is an intelligent, sharp-witted character who desires nothing more than to be saved. Her sarcasm is cutting, her perceptiveness is incisive, and she remains lucid and even amusing during her most anxious episodes. The most interesting truth about Good Morning, Midnight is that you might find aspects of yourself staring back at you from its pages. If you have ever been overwhelmed by loneliness, grief, sadness, or shame, you will read the novel with a wry sense of recognition, if you have not; you might find yourself squirming anxiously as you read its brutal pages. Good Morning, Midnight is a heart breaking and disturbing tale of an existence that has become a matter of merely passing time and making plans for an unattainable tomorrow that stretches out ominously  forever. Rhys’s novel is an unsettling, but triumphant novel that allows beauty and horror to sit awkwardly side by side to expose the trauma and pain of human experience and the bittersweet desire for salvation.

 

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About Jade Kostanczuk

I'm an English Literature graduate, an aspiring writer and bookworm

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