Celebrating the literature and history of the Interwar years.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie by Jean Rhys
This extraordinary novel was published in 1930 and has fully established Jean Rhys as one of my favorite authors.
After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie follows Julia Martin, a thirtyish woman who has shunned polite society to live off the generosity of various men and who’s main occupations are sleeping and wandering the streets. When the novel begins she’s living in Paris on an allowance from her former lover Mr. Mackenzie. When he decides to cut her off she returns on a whim to London where she reconnects (unsuccessfully) with her mother and sister. We then follow her ten-day tour of disaster before she leaves London to return to Paris.
Similar in theme to Good Morning, Midnight, which I read last month, this novel is, in my opinion, better. Unlike Midnight, we occasionally see the story from the other characters’ viewpoints so we’re not stuck in Julia’s sick head the whole novel. Also, this novel is funnier and has a lightness that Midnight is lacking and could have used. The following passage is typical of Rhys’ humor:
“The landlady was a thin, fair woman with red eyelids. She had a low, whispering voice and a hesitating manner, so that you thought: ‘She can’t possibly be a Frenchwoman.’ Not that you lost yourself in conjectures as to what she was because you didn’t care a damn anyway.”
I’m so impressed with Rhys’ writing and sad that her troubled personal life halted her creative abilities and that she didn’t write more novels. I’ll next read Voyage in the Dark and then her masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea.