Jean Rhys, a Creole woman from Dominica, writes back to the racist and ableist strand in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, which painted a woman with the same background as Rhys as a monstrous lunatic, locked away on the third floor of the house. Rhys tells the story of this character from childhood, seeking the roots of her tragedy.
This melancholic, shadowy, evocative, power-shifting book, elegantly and beautifully written, is truly an essential piece of progressive literature, a much needed reproof to a literary tradition which has presumed to speak for, and affected the marginalisation of non-European and especially colonized people. Antoinette's experience as a woman is painful and limited due to the patriarchal norms in her own country, but in moving to England where her brown body and her behaviour are Other and unacceptable she is stripped of even more power and control over her circumstances and her body, even losing her name.
The description has extraordinary clarity, particularly when the island's flora and fauna intrude into human spaces. The mixture of unvarnished realism and sharply focused description of certain signifying details has an evocative and often viscerally uncomfortable effect. While she brings Antoinette's lost voice into a literary dialogue, Rhys also speaks in her own; her style of conflicts and contrasts expresses her willed resistance to colonial forms and the European tradition.