Good Morning, Midnight is a tale told from the margins – of sanity, sobriety and society.
Sasha is, to borrow half a title, ‘down and out in Paris’ , which is where this book is mostly set. Not a cheery read by any stretch of the imagination, it’s the story of a woman who just doesn’t fit. She doesn’t fit into polite company, or in consistent employment; she wanders, and so too does her mind. Mostly that involves drinking, or memories of drinking, or of love and youth long gone. What Rhys captures particularly well is a dizzying sense of middle age, of being lost within oneself and to society. There’s little plot to speak of. Instead, there’s an almost stream of consciousness unravelling of episodes and the poetry of the Rhys’s writing.
First published in 1939, this is in many ways a book of its times – certainly in setting, characters and style of telling. The title is culled from Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name:
Good morning, Midnight!
I’m coming home,
Day got tired of me
How could I of him?
Sunshine was a sweet place,
I liked to stay –
But Morn didn’t want me – now –
So good night, Day!
The bleak but beguiling tone of the poem is indicative of Rhys’s treatment as a whole.
“If you have money and friends, houses are just houses with steps and a front-door — friendly houses where the door opens and somebody meets you, smiling. If you are quite secure and your roots are well struck in, they know. If you are quite secure and your roots well struck in, they know. They stand back respectfully, waiting for the poor devil without any friends and without any money. Then they step forward, the waiting houses, to frown and crush. No hospitable doors, no lit windows, just frowning darkness. Frowning and leering and sneering, the houses, one after another. Tall cubes of darkness, with two lighted eyes at the top to sneer. And they know who to frown at.”
Similar to: Factotum (Charles Bukowski), Leaving Mr Mackenzie (Jean Rhys), The Driver’s Seat (Muriel Spark).
Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys. Penguin, 1969 (Constable, 1939)
CREDITS & COPYRIGHT
Words: my own except where quoted.
Photo by Alexander Andrews.