I just finished reading The Blue Hour by Lilian Pizzichini: A Life of Jean Rhys, a book I purchased in a Friends of the Library sale. A couple of years ago, I was led to read Rhys’s novel, Wide Sargasso Sea after watching the movie with the same title. Yes, I know one should never judge a novel by it’s movie, but in this case, I enjoyed the movie, and that pushed me to find the novel. The novel proved to be better, and more explanative of the movie. The novel is one of those I’ve read that I know I’ll never forget. There’s several reviews of this book online, so I’ll just focus on presenting the impression the reading of this biography made on me.
I was first of all impressed with the author, Lilian Pizzichini. According to the copy of the book’s jacket I purchase, she worked for the Literary Review and Times Literary Supplement in England. Her first book Dead Men’s Wages, won the 2002 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Digger for Nonfiction. She lives in London and has has worked as a writer-in-residence at several prisons. I found a writer who carefully acknowledged her sources, and who was able to, in her words, “present the facts of Rhys’s life in such a way that the reader is left with an impression of what it was like to have lived such a life.”
And I did find the biography honest, objective, and insightful. I had no idea that the life of this writer I enjoyed so much was so complex and beset with so many difficulties–many of them due to her own volatile nature. I really didn’t expect to feel what I felt as i read this account, nor to find out what I found about this writer that I do so admire. The biography helped me see facets of Rhys’s writings that I’ve never seen before and it also revealed stories and other novels before Wide Sargasso Sea that I want now to read.
The biography is called the Blue Hour, as L’Heure Bleue was Rhys’s favorite perfume. I love reading biographies about writers, and I nearly always find ways I can identify, empathize, and sympathize with those writers. Writers share many secrets, many common traits, and not all of them are pleasant to recognize and experience.
I enjoyed this read because it increased my vocabulary, historical facts, and geographical locations–not only of Dominica, her native island, but of historical London and Paris.
Pizzichini was also able to reveal much information regarding Rhys’s style of writing, and the demons and ideas that propelled or at times hindered it. I discovered “an unconventional woman tormented by he inability to conform” (305). Her three marriages, her children, her family–both immediate and extended–all of these helped but at sometimes hindered her artistic development. Her days of poverty, her vamping days, and her days of societal confrontation that often ended in fines and incarceration all revealed insights to this writer that I never would have imagined.
This is a book I’m glad I discovered. I’ll certainly search for some more of Rhys’s works to read and ponder, and will definitely read again Wide Sargasso Sea.
Pizzichini, Lilian. The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys. New York: 2009, W.W.