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Good Morning, Midnight

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In 1930s Paris, where one cheap hotel room is very much like another, a young woman is teaching herself indifference. She has escaped personal tragedy and has come to France to find courage and seek independence. She tells herself to expect nothing, especially not kindness, least of all from men. Tomorrow, she resolves, she will dye her hair blonde.

159 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1939

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About the author

Jean Rhys

56 books1,178 followers
Known West Indian-born British writer Jean Rhys, originally Ellen Gwendolen Rees Williams based Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a novel, on the character of the first Mistress Rochester in Jane Eyre of Charlotte Brontë.

This Caribbean woman published her first four during the 1920s and 1930s, but emerged as a significant literary figure in the mid 20th century. This "prequel" won a prestigious William Henry Smith literary award in 1967.

A Scottish mother bore her to a Welsh father.
She moved to England at the age of 16 years in 1906 and worked unsuccessfully as a chorus girl. In the 1920s, she relocated to Europe, travelled as a Bohemian artist, and took up residence sporadically in Paris. During this period, Rhys, familiar with modern art and literature, lived near poverty and acquired the alcoholism that persisted throughout the rest of her life. Her experience of a patriarchal society and displacement during this period formed some of the most important themes in her work.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 978 reviews
Profile Image for Buck.
158 reviews880 followers
December 23, 2009
A disaffected, thirty-something guy abandons his wife, moves to Paris and sleeps with some prostitutes. His name is Henry Miller and the book is called Tropic of Cancer.

A disaffected, thirty-something woman, after being abandoned by her husband, goes to Paris and almost sleeps with a gigolo. Her name is Jean Rhys and the book is called Good Morning, Midnight.

As near as I can figure, Miller and Rhys were in Paris at the same time. Maybe they even hung out in the same cafés and bought each other rounds of Pernod. Beyond that, you’d be hard-pressed to find two people more different. Miller looks at the world, sees himself everywhere and shouts, “Fuck, yeah.” Rhys peeks out her window, sees herself everywhere and mutters, “Meh.” Then she crawls back into bed with a bottle of gin and stares at the bugs on the wall.

I’m not convinced Henry Miller is a good role model for the thousands of middle-class boys who read him in late adolescence and are given this incredibly seductive picture of life as an endless bachelor party, with wall-to-wall pussy and intermissions of boozy philosophical chatter. It’s like learning all about girls from that disreputable uncle who used to keep back issues of Penthouse lying out in plain view and who spoke vaguely yet appealingly about Zen Buddhism. You know, the same uncle who was always hitting your parents up for “short-term loans.”

Rhys, then, is the anti-Miller. She’s a gigantic but necessary buzzkill. Where Miller is all about acquisition—of books, women, experiences—Rhys is all about loss. Her fictional alter ego is slowly losing everything: her looks, her faith in humanity, her will to live. There’s no self-pity; just the bitter resignation of someone who, out of pure disgust, has decided to drink herself to death.

Okay, so maybe Rhys isn’t such a great role model either. I could see how her world-view might have the same warping effect on a certain type of girl as Miller’s does on a certain type of boy. But I still say Good Morning, Midnight is a more grown-up book than Tropic of Cancer, just as Rhys’s Paris—glum, bitchy, lower middle-class—is less romanticized than Miller’s Brassai-esque version.

Wisdom would probably consist in finding some middle path between these two poles of egotism, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d take Rhys’s route. I mean, I have no desire to end up a depressive alcoholic in a rented room—though that’s a definite possibility at this point—but that does seem a marginally better fate than becoming a priapic fifty-year-old pontificating about Nietzsche to his cronies.

Or I could get married, move to the suburbs and avoid the whole sordid dilemma. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,086 reviews7,013 followers
January 22, 2022
[Edited, pictures added, spoilers hidden 1/22/22]

I had heard of this author from her well-known book Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel and a feminist response to Jane Eyre’s ‘crazy woman in the attic.’ Although I have not read that book I decided to give this one a try.

Wow, what a surprise! I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect such in-your-face language from a woman writer published back in 1938.

A lonely French woman in Paris wanders from dingy bar to dingy bar and from seedy hotel to seedy hotel. She’s getting a change of scenery from London where she did the same thing and had tried to drink herself to death. When she had previously come back to London from Paris, she remembers her ex- asking her “Why didn’t you drown yourself in the Seine?”


Two phrases recur almost as mantras: variations on: “I have no pride – no pride, no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere. Too sad, too sad…” and something she overheard in a bar: “Qu’est-ce qu’elle fout ici, la vielle?” Roughly: “What the hell is that old lady doing here?” I should say that those old college French courses are needed because, while you can pick up most meaning in context, there is quite a bit of French and most is not translated.

She lives a sad life. She’s young enough to still be attractive to men in bars and she lets them buy her drinks and dinners, and occasionally brings them back to her room but never has sex with them. Some of them are gigolos and most want money from her. (We don’t know the exact time frame of the story but, published in 1938, it’s probably reflecting times during the Depression.) She dresses well enough that they think she’s wealthy, but she’s not. She has a lot of experience with men like this, so whatever they say, she assumes they are lying.


In between her bar visits, she drinks in her hotel and reflects back on her life. When very young, her new husband took her to Paris with absolutely no prospect of a livelihood.


Somehow she feels she never figured out how to be like other people and how to lead a ‘normal’ life like everyone else: “Faites comme les autres – that’s been my motto all my life. Faites comme les autres, damn you… I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try.”

She has a remarkable ability to read what people are thinking into their looks. She can go on for a few sentences about what a waiter thinks of her before a word is spoken. Unfortunately what she thinks they are thinking is always disparaging or reproachful of her. Her mental attitude is such that she is doomed from the start in just about any human interaction.

Another passage that tells us more about the terrible mental state she is in: “People talk about the happy life, but that’s the happy life when you don’t care any longer if you live or die.”

Mental illness? Depression? Alcoholism? What shelf should I put this under? Bleak? All in all, not a pretty story, but fascinating in its way, fast-paced, written in a stream-of-consciousness format. Its deep psychological insight kept my attention all the way through.


The author (1890-1979) was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica but left to go to school in England when she was 16. She had three husbands and spent much of her life wandering in the European capitals. One husband was a con-man and ended up in prison. She wrote a half-dozen novels, most of which, Wikipedia tells us (like this one), portray a mistreated, dumped, rootless woman inhabiting cheap hotels.

Top picture of Paris in the 1930's from glamourdaze.com
The Absinthe Drinkers by Edgar Degas
Photo from vintag.es
The author from repeatingislands.files.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
March 8, 2020

A clear-eyed chronicle of desperation etched in diamond-hard prose.

It amazes me how any book so filled with despair could be so completely free of self-pity, and how any book consisting entirely of an inward monologue could contain such vivid realistic details and make Paris in the '30's come alive!
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
June 2, 2017
After the first week I made up my mind to kill myself- the usual whiff of chloroform. Next week, or next month, or next year I’ll kill myself……

These are words spoken with truth and clarity. They’re simple and honest. And not for a single moment in the novel did I doubt them, not for a single moment did I conceive that there could be an alternative ending. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you: this isn’t a nice novel. There is very little in the way of redemptive themes, and the motif of freedom is only fully achieved through the ultimate rejection of human happiness and interpersonal relationships.

Sasha Jensen is on a downward spiral of self-destruction. She’s been hurt to the point of no return. This isn’t a simple case of a wound that time can heal; it is a wound so deep that it will always remain open. And the narrative doesn’t reveal this straight away. Firstly, we see a glimpse of Sasha and begin to realise the maladaptive nature of her behaviour. She doesn’t physically self-harm, but on an emotional level she is destroying her soul. So in a sense her behaviour can easily be defined as self-destructive. She is drinking copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain that is life; she has been shit on, and she just couldn’t pick herself up. Some people are stronger than others, and initially I found myself questioning Sasha’s vulnerability. However, as the novel progressed it does become clear how such a situation can be born:

“And when I say afraid- that’s just a word I use. What I really mean is I hate them. I hate their voices, I hate their eyes, I hate the way they laugh…..I hate the whole bloody business. It’s cruel, it’s idiotic, it’s unspeakably horrible. I never had the guts to kill myself or I’d have got out of it a long time ago. So much the worse for me. Let’s leave it at that.”


She is at a point where she sees no light in the hearts of men. She is a misanthrope: a hater of mankind. For her, there is nothing left to love for. She’s lost it all. She tries to relive the dream of her youth, but she doesn’t alter her behaviour; she carries on in her woe, and it is her end. It’s a miserable book, full of darkness and despair, and at the centre of it is a character not unlike people in real life. Sasha is the woman who has had her heart broken; she is the woman who loved and lost: she is the loner. And in these pages is an evocative tale of human suffering, which is the fate that befalls many of us.

Through her relationship with men, the novel explores typical gender roles. At times they are reversed. Typically speaking, literary representations of relationships tend to follow gender stereotyped behaviours. I don’t need to point them out, but in this they are subverted. And this does give Sasha some freedom, though she doesn’t fully explore it: she is far to damaged. The novel also openly discusses homosexuality, in men and women, which is ridiculously ahead of its time. The Victorians often betrayed such things, but it was cryptic and repressed: this is blatant. However, these modern themes were not enough to rejuvenate one so broken.

It seems appropriate to end with the poem for which this novel is named. It’s worth reading it alongside the novel:

Poem 425 by Emily Dickenson

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—

I can look—can't I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You—are not so fair—Midnight—
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!

Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,558 followers
June 8, 2017
Electric stream-of-consciousness novel whose action largely takes place in the margins. Rhys is an extraordinary writer of inner-state, and she finds a surprising amount of observational humor in the struggles of her narrator, Sophia Jansen, who has returned to Paris years after a tragedy. This is one of the great novels of alcoholism that I have read, as Jansen finds both release and embarrassment in her mash-together of days. Characters, mainly men, flit in and out of this book in a daze, and though the cinema plays a major part in the action, there is frequent slippage into the past. Somehow, though the story is told in bits, we assemble a life.

Rhys has given us the best kind of unreliable narrator here, one who is unreliable even to herself, and though there's not much in terms of scene work to latch onto, the novel is very fast. I wish it had done well, and that she had continued in this vein (after the novel failed to do well, Rhys dropped out of the public eye for 20 years), because in its focus on sexuality and the mind, this should have stood as a work of modernism. Reminiscent of Alfred Hayes, who I love.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,385 reviews2,258 followers
October 16, 2022

Good Morning Midnight - my first novel by Rhys - sees down on her luck Englishwoman Sasha Jansen come to Paris on borrowed money to recapture the happiness and exorcise the pain of her previous life there. The first person narrative is awash with cafes, hotel rooms, drinking, crying, sleeping, self-pity, more hotel rooms, more crying, falling for men one minute, hating them the next, being broke, feeling miserable; you get the picture: she's a bit of a wreak.

Told with a spare prose style, this reads as a work of psychological fiction, but redeems Jean Rhys' own consciousness throughout. In her life she found the simplest practicalities beyond her, and once said 'I have only ever written about myself'. It's difficult not to see Sasha as a mere self-portrait, but would be unfair to see Good Morning Midnight just as a disguised memoir, because it isn't. It's a small novel in its own brief and perfect right, depicting the emotional and sensitive nature of trying to find stability again. It could have been more depressing but the overall tone is just about right, giving a good balance of hopefulness and despair.

I had some thoughts before hand this would turn out to have a strong feminist viewpoint, and it does to some extent, only her women are more helpless and sad rather than angry or militant, and there is no poisoned chalice towards men, with her rants feeling aimed more internally. Sasha does have a saving grace though, that being humour, her willingness to see the comedy, even absurdity, in the most bitter memories and humiliating encounters, and there would be many of them.
The way Rhys goes about describing Paris is quite sinister, moving from one cheap hotel on dead-end street that backs out onto a dingy ally, to another. Sasha's encounters are told with a feeling where you never know how things will end up, any unstable predicament likely to happen at any given moment. Anything that is set in Paris immediately gets the thumbs up from me, but obviously there is more to it than just that. I found so much to love about this work; it really hit me with such intense feeling. Its prose was simple but its impact deep.

I felt much pity for Sasha, after all she goes through, and this was the defining turning point for me when it comes to female protagonists. I want more of them like Sasha. I wanted nothing more than to give Sasha a nice big bear hug. A Parisian classic.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews34 followers
August 1, 2019
4.5 rating... I’m not home now - I’ll write a review tomorrow.
Great buddy read with Violet!


This is my 3rd book within a couple of months - by Jean Rhys - so one can assume correct that I think Rhys was a phenomenal writer.
This is the bleakest of the 3 novels....but it’s possibly my favorite....much to reflect on.....many pages ‘to pause’: set the book down to examine the story itself and our own lives.

Since I’m having discussions with Violet through buddy reading - I don’t feel compelled to make this a lengthy review. But Violet got me going on BAD HAIR DAYS. I couldn’t NOT see the ‘word’ hair again with any neutrality - no matter what context - after Violet planted the ‘hair-seed’.

Two things stood out for me rather quickly ( besides hair, feelings of unworthiness, despair, loneliness, pain, authentic truth, and multitude of blows): I KNOW - isn’t that enough?/!
1- The ongoing usage of the way Rhys repeated words:
back, back, back...
Sick sick sick...
Chewing, chewing, chewing...
Chlorophyll, chlorophyll, chlorophyll....
Yes, yes, yes....
Rhys’ triple - words throughout only intensified the emotions.

2 - CRYING ....lots of crying - in public and or alone. The type of crying where one tries hard to suppress ... but those tears come anyway.
“I am talking away, quite calmly and sedately, when there it is again — tears in my eyes, tears rolling down my face. (Saved, rescued, but not quite so good as new...)”
“I’m so sorry. I’m such a fool”.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me”.
“Oh, Madame, oh, Madame,
Delmar says, why do you cry?”
“I’m such a fool. Please don’t take any notice of me. Just don’t take any notice and I’ll be all right”.
“But cry, le peintre says. Cry if you want to. Why shouldn’t you cry? You’re with friends”.
“If I could have a drink…”

Sasha often wanted to cry. She said:
“That is the only advantage women have over men - at least they can cry”.

There was another section in this book that I did a lot of thinking about. Sasha was only 25 years old - single - she saw herself too thin, dirty and haggard. Her clothes were shabby, her shoes were worn out, she had circles under her eyes and her hair was straight and lanky. She was so incredibly critical of herself. Sasha DID experience suffering from loss and tragedy .....
Her life wasn’t the life she bargained for.....
I put my book down to think about how life was for me when in my 20’s. They ‘were’ some of my hardest years .....I ran away for a couple of years ( Paris and London too)....’running’ is the word....There were days ... I ate large amounts of sugar - instead of real food - the way Sasha drank.
So I wanted to have a chat with Sasha ....and all young people hurting, loss, without much more than a dime to their name....
Comfort them....and tell them.....
I know people who killed themselves in their 20’s - even younger: heartbreaking.
I just wanted to tell Sasha to not give into the eternity of the downhill grade.

Of coarse I felt bad for Sasha....( laughed a few times at funny stories)....but I loved this woman.... The way she was and the way she wasn’t!

Thanks Violet for being my reading buddy!
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,218 followers
October 5, 2017
Emily Dickinson, poem 382.
“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—

I can look—can't I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You—are not so fair—Midnight—
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!”

The desperation of having sunk so low to a bottomless pit where disaffection has taken over the zest for life is at the background of the syncopated rhythm of this non-story, as it is in Emily Dickinson’s poem, which gives title to this confessional novella.
Was Jean Rhys an eccentric woman, like Dickinson; a social outcast unable to accept her place in the corseted roles attached to their gender at the time?
Or was she another victim of straddling two worlds, the inner and the outer, two cultures, two expectations, hers and the other that society nursed on her since her birth?

When depression is no longer a novelty but the dominant state in which a person operates for long periods of time, there is no room for self-pity or compassion. Sasha, the protagonist of this stream of consciousness monologue, is a castaway woman. Abandoned by her lover, completely destitute and in a permanent state of intoxication, she slowly drinks herself away to utter obliteration. Present, past and uncalled memories knit a downward spiral into the recondite corners of Sasha’s subconscious that waxes and wanes into events happening in real time. A succession of casual encounters with assorted males combined with all kind of cocktails leads the reader into the depths of the resigned misery that subjugates the narrator. Rhys’ tone gradually acquires the darkness that lies in wait, ready to ambush, pushing Sasha and the reader closer to the edge of the precipice that threatens to engulf everything, all thought, all hope, but also the unfathomable sadness that corrodes from within.

Rhys’ intimate meditations on the “improbable truths” and hypocrisies of life bring about sharp observations on the dynamics among classes and the correlation between physical spaces and social decline towards the complete annulation of the self.
Paris, the city of light, goes out modestly, giving way to shabby hotel rooms and superficial descriptions of dead, empty streets where soulless people roam without direction.
Sasha’s final success relays in her bold, unafraid glance into the crudeness of her reality and in the pluck she gathers from scratch to defy life, which is about to defeat her. In the silent hollowness of her impersonal room, she promises herself that she’ll never allow anybody to look down on her. Relief might never come, but she’ll fight her own demons, holding her head up high. And only for that reason, she has my total respect.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
October 15, 2022
There’s a great website called The Smoking Gun which features celebrity mugshots. The celebrities are divided into categories : Hollywood (A list and B list), Music, Killers, Business, Gangsters, Sports and Television, and… Nuisances. Since they haven’t got a Writers section, Jean Rhys’ mugshots would have been a perfect fit in the Nuisances section. But if there was a writer’s section, she’d surely have come top in number of arrests. The quality of the crimes, though, was rather poor.

And alas, we don’t have the mugshots. But this will do


Wardour Street, London, 13 June 1935. Jean and husband Leslie, both drunk, battering each other; both arrested at 4 in the morning. Spent the night in the cells; arraigned at Bow Street on a D&D. Both fined 30 shillings and sixpence, plus doctor’s fee.


From the Beckenham Recorder, 1 April 1948:

“I lost my head and threw a brick through the window because her dog, a killer and a fighter, attacked my cat,” said Elle Gwendoline Hamer (56), a writer, of 35 Southend Road, Beckenham, accused at Bromley on Thursday, of breaking a pane of glass, value £5, belonging to Mrs Rose Hardiman, of 37 Southend Road. Hamer was bound over and ordered to pay £5 to Mrs Hardiman.


12 April 1949 – Bromley Magistrates Court. The charge : assaulting a lodger, Mr Bezant, and the arresting officer, after a party the day before, which Mrs Hamer objected to on grounds of noise. Remanded to prison for 13 days. At the trial on 25 April she was found guilty, fined £4 (£1 for Mr Bezant and £3 for the policeman) and bound over to keep the peace for a year.

When she got home on the 25th, her tenants, Mr & Mrs Besant, were lurking in the hallway (they rented the upstairs rooms). According to Jean he said

“I see you didn’t like what happened in court today. I have got you where I want you now and I’ll get you lower still.” Jean said, according to Jean, “If you think I’m going to pay this fine, you have made a mistake. I would sooner go to prison for life.“

So wouldn’t you know it, there was another fracas.


Back to Bromley Magistrates Court, ten days later. Verdict : Guilty of assaulting the same person, plus his wife, plus another tenant. Case adjourned while psychiatric reports were made. Back in court on 27 June. Asked by the court if she had anything to say. Yes, she did. Remanded for another week to Holloway Prison – the big house. 4 July, back in court. They had discovered that she wasn’t insane. Sentence : two years’ probation.

Now something crazy happened. On 5th November this appeared in the New Statesman :

Jean Rhys (Mrs Tilden Smith) author of Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Good Morning Midnight, etc. Will anyone knowing the whereabouts kindly communicate with Dr H W Egli, 3 Chesterfield Gdns, NW3.

An actress, Selma vaz Dias, a Rhys fan, had adapted GMM as a radio play, and needed Jean’s permission, but everyone was telling her Jean Rhys was dead. (Jean, drunk for years, totally out of touch with literary London, almost – but not quite – forgotten.) Jean saw the ad and replied. And then, on 16 November, ANOTHER drunken row with the neighbours.


Jean : my bitter enemy next door is now telling everybody very loud and clear that I’m an imposter “impersonating a dead writer called Jean Rhys” – it’s a weird feeling being told you are impersonating yourself… you think : Maybe I am!

In a rage, proclaiming her innocence of the charge of impersonating Jean Rhys, she wandered back and forth in the road, stopping all the traffic. Back to Bromley Magistrates Court AGAIN…. But this time…. Charges dismissed!

That was Jean’s last brush with the law, but not her last dance with the devils in the bottles.
She missed the broadcast of Good morning Midnight. I wouldn’t like to say why.

This is my attitude to life. Please, please, monsieur et madame, mister, missus and miss. I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try. Three hours to choose a hat; every morning an hour and a half trying to make myself look like everybody else. Every word I say has chains around its ankles; every thought I think is weighted with heavy weights…

"Another Pernod," I say.

(Good Morning Midnight, p 88)
Profile Image for Nidhi Singh.
40 reviews164 followers
June 16, 2021
Today I must be careful, today I have left my armour at home.

Little by little everything turns to break her. She suffers in isolation and feels conjoined and yet detached with all that is damned and discarded and how this leads to an intensification of the loneliness she feels. Defenseless, willing to run away from this and everything, every moment of living chased and cursed by unkindness, condescension and mockery. As if everyone who is a part of this ruthless world has merged into that collective derisive laughter that is directed towards her and rings in her ears every time and everywhere she goes.

I have no pride – no pride, no name, no face. No country. I don’t belong anywhere. Too sad, too sad….

Floating from one fragment to the other, with nothing to stay on, she sheds them all off only to reveal that dry crust of loneliness. There no sense of deceptiveness about Sasha Jensen, no delusion with a kind of living which keeps back some frightful disturbance roaring underneath. Everything has been served on the surface, sparsely, cut to pieces; the sadness, the brokenness, the joylessness of life.

In the middle of the night you wake up. You start to cry. What’s happening to me? Oh, my life, oh, my youth…

It is not just the loneliness, it’s the inability to pull oneself out of it, of making nothing out of her youth, of pouring out her existence into the vapidness of the Parisian cafes, seedy hotel rooms. Of being the failed participant of her own life. Her life which is splattered on those forgetful streets, and bars where everyone is cruel, everyone disapproves. She is the witness of her dissolution. And how hard she tries to sink in her invisibility, the muteness of her self. But think how hard I try and how seldom I dare. Think and have a bit of pity. That is if you ever think you apes which I doubt.

Planning it all out. Eating. A movie. Eating again. One drink. A long walk to the hotel. Bed. Luminal. Sleep. Just sleep- no dreams.

She tries to grab some silly hope, some plan as if the fulfillment of it would mean something, would change something; a hotel room with a bath, or a dress at the store. A new hat, a new dress, new hair, a good meal; a reinvention that would not have the pieces of the past sticking on her. Something that would mean a symbolic relief from the past, the present, the sadness and the loneliness.Its all right. Tomorrow I will be pretty again. I’ll be happy again, tomorrow, tomorrow..

I want one thing and one thing only- to be left alone. No more pawings, no more prying – leave me alone..

This strong desire for isolation also comes from a hysterical nervousness and dread of unknown people and places, their hostility towards a certain kind of conspicuousness that only comes from a certain degree of wretchedness. This hostility that slits open her wounds and makes her crumble into the dampness of tears and pain.You want to know what I am afraid of? All right, I’ll tell you..I’m afraid of men - yes, I’m very much afraid of men. And I’m even more afraid of women.

What is it one looks for in others when one is that lonely? How differently and acutely observant and intuitive does that make a person? And how distrustful! She knows there is something in her that makes them see through her. Is it the sadness, the compliance, the vulnerability? It makes them so hateful, so pitiless. But there is no self-pity in Sasha Jensen, but a terrible ache, a yearning inside. It is something that can never be filled for its moment of birth is already over.

Saved, rescued, fished-up, half drowned, out of the deep, dark river, dry clothes, hair shampooed and set. Nobody would know I had ever been in it. Except, of course, that there always remains something. Yes, there always remains something....Never mind, here I am, sane and dry, with my place to hide in. What more do I want?....I'm a bit of an automaton, but sane, surely - dry, cold and sane. Now I have forgotten about dark streets, dark rivers, the pain, the struggle and the drowning....Mind you, I'm not talking about the struggle when you are strong and a good swimmer and there are willing and eager friends on the bank waiting to pull you out at the first sign of distress. I mean the real thing. You jump in with no willing and eager friends around, and when you sink you sink to the accompaniment of loud laughter.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,054 followers
August 3, 2019
What happens to a woman when her self-esteem becomes entirely dependent on mirrors and men. Everything about Sasha, our narrator, has seen better days, including her fur coat which she wears as a kind of memory mantra of better days. There's a febrile pressing authenticity about the way Rhys writes of this squalid repetitive purgatorial world. You can feel the squalor and fatality of Sasha's downward spiral on your skin. Sasha herself seems to have little psychological insight - betokened by the constant tears she sheds without quite knowing where they come from. As a reader you find yourself doubling up as psychoanalyst. There's a fabulous touch at the end when Rhys inverts and creates a horror show of Molly Bloom's triumphant yes to life at the end of her monologue in Ulysses.
I preferred this to the more formalised Wide Sargasso Sea. This felt like an author baring her soul. Apparently, it sunk without trace when published and Rhys, as a result became a recluse for the rest of her life.
It was a buddy read with Elyse and sparked a great dialogue about our relationships with men and mirrors.
4+ stars.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,180 reviews1,940 followers
January 29, 2014
This is one of Rhys’s earlier works and is popularly described as modernist; its title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem;

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!

It is the story of Sasha Jensen who in her mid age goes back to the haunts of her youth in Paris. She has been living in London on a small inherited income trying to drink herself to death. Having miserably failed at this she goes to Paris for holiday and reminiscence about her feckless ex-husband, dead child and lost youth. Rhys combines flashbacks and the present in a seamless way. The descriptions of the seedy hotel and its denizens are brilliantly drawn as are the gigolos who mistake Sasha for a wealthy woman.
The novel is about loneliness; but, of course we are all alone, even surrounded by people and Rhys knew that. However there is here also a sense of the injustice society does to women and Sasha’s experiences illustrate this. Its powerful stuff and I got a sense of the anger that one finds in later feminist writers like Marilyn French. Most of all though there is a “whiff of existentialism” about this novel. It reminded me of “Nausea” by Sartre and there is a strong sense of alienation running through it.
I’m making this sound very depressing and of course it isn’t a light comedy, but there is no wallowing in self pity. It is though a masterly study of the human condition and Rhys is a sharp and perceptive observer of relationships between men and women and is very good at setting mood. Her everyday descriptions are beautifully observed.
This was my first Rhys (I know, I need to read more) and it’s a good place to start.
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
April 28, 2016
I had the bright idea of drinking myself to death...I've had enough of these streets that sweat a cold, yellow slime, of hostile people, of crying myself to sleep every night, enough of thinking, enough of remembering. Now whiskey, rum, gin, sherry, vermouth, wine...Drink,drink,drink...As soon as I sober up I start again. I have to force it down sometimes...But nothing. I must be solid as an oak. Except when I cry.

What to say about this book?

What to say about Jean Rhys?

Could she have had a happy life? Read this:
From 1960, and for the rest of her life, Rhys lived in Cheriton Fitzpaine, a small village in Devon that she once described as "a dull spot which even drink can't enliven much". Characteristically she remained unimpressed by her belated ascent to literary fame (from The Wide Sargasso Sea), commenting, "It has come too late." In an interview shortly before her death she questioned whether any novelist, not least herself, could ever be happy for any length of time. She said: "If I could choose I would rather be happy than write ... if I could live my life all over again, and choose ...".

What to say about the protagonist? She has a name, seldom mentioned, since the narrative is in the first person - but I won't bother looking it up - let's just call her "Jean" - will that do?

A disjointed narrative, hard to decide when this piece and that piece are taking place, but mostly in Paris, between the wars, Jean a woman who has had some happiness, but little enough.

Can’t hold a job, no confidence, or rather confident that she will not be there long, a dress shop, trying to help the customers, not knowing the language so well, the owner arrives, speaks to her, she fails to impress in fact quite the reverse she does indeed impress but in the wrong way. Sacked.

She contemplates suicide, not once, more than once, perhaps even with some regularity when things are going especially badly. Even friends or at least acquaintances in London, joking at her, asking why she doesn’t drown herself in the Seine … ah so funny, just what she needs to hear.

She’s loved a man maybe men but that never lasts, they grow bored, leave.

Money. Every care in the world centers on money, swirls around money like a whirlpool. She borrows money from friends, some give her money out of exasperation or kindness or … whatever.

She meets another man, at a decisive moment knows that she has fallen in love and will love him forever, and for a few weeks perhaps things go well ... he has a job she teaches English makes a few sous but then things change the money stops coming in and as usual it turns out that forever lasts only so long, then it’s over.

But at times she is happy ...

I am surrounded by the pictures … Now the room expands and the iron band round my heart loosens. The miracle has happened. I am happy.

... for a few hours, a plan works, her day includes buying something, spending three hours trying on hats, finally buying a cheap one – yes of course this a day when she has some money – then something to eat and for sure a drink, a bottle of wine, Pernod a favorite, oh and whiskey or bourbon they have their place also, so to drink and that lightens cares ...

Will I have another little Pernod? I certainly will have another little Pernod. (Food? I don’t want any food now. I want more of this feeling – fire and wings.)

... until the café closes and she makes her way back to a room – one room or another on one street or another – they’re all the same, that is, none of them are much, just a cheap room.

This damned room – it’s saturated with the past … It’s all the rooms I’ve ever slept in, all the streets I’ve ever walked in. Now the whole thing moves in an ordered, undulating procession past my eyes. Rooms, streets, streets, rooms …

But she has armour: her cynical attitude, her devil-may-care façade that can usually be counted on to carry her through at least a bit of life’s insults, laughter, snide remarks – the easy things, a little hunger, lousy weather, a look from a man (or woman), something said under the breath but quite loud enough to be heard.

I wait for a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes. Nobody turns up … Bon, bien, that’s what you get for being exalted, my girl. But the protective armour is functioning all right – I don’t mind at all.

The woman at the bar gives me one of those looks: What do you want here, you? … Well, dear madame, to tell you the truth, what I want here is a drink – I rather think two, perhaps three.
It is cold and dark outside, and everything has gone out of me except misery.
‘A Pernod’, I say to the waiter.
He looks at me in a sly, amused way when he brings it.
God, it’s funny, being a woman! And the other one – the one behind the bar – is she going to giggle or to say something about me in a voice loud enough for me to hear? That’s the way she’s feeling.
No, she says nothing … But she says it all.
Well, that's O.K. chere madame, and very nicely done too. You've said nothing but you've said it all.
Never mind, here I am and here I'm going to stay.

And there’s always crying. She hates crying but so often it’s all she can do, it’s the only way of facing what can’t be faced when the armour is not there and the drink won’t mask the dark …

I often want to cry. That is the only advantage that women have over men – at least they can cry.


I cry for a long time - for myself, for the old woman with the bald head, for all the sadness of this damned world, for all the fools and all the defeated ...

Yes, she cries. But Jean tries too, at least intermittently, once in a while, getting ready to go to that so-hard to hold job, that appointment for something she can’t remember what or why …

But this is my attitude to life. Please, please, monsieur et madame, mister, missis and miss, I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try. Three hours to choose a hat; every morning an hour and a half trying to make myself look like everybody else. Every word I say has chains around its ankles; every thought I think is weighted with heavy weights. Since I was born, hasn’t every word I’ve said, every thought I’ve thought, everything I’ve done, been tied up, weighted, chained? And, mind you, I know that with all this I don’t succeed. Or I succeed in flashes only too damned well … But think how hard I try and how seldom I dare. Think – and have a bit of pity. That is, if you ever think, you apes, which I doubt.

Jean, Jean … can life be so hard for a woman? Is the only choice to somehow be with a man who will not leave you, who will stay long enough to make you believe that happiness is possible, that life is not such a drudge, an unending rollercoaster, up and down, up and down but somehow not like a rollercoaster because more downs than ups? Surely there are women who are happy, are there not Jean? But how would I know? Maybe … maybe not?
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews952 followers
August 27, 2012
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—

I can look—can't I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You—are not so fair—Midnight—
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!
~ Emily Dickenson


You know what feeling always does me in? Loneliness. When I start feeling lonely it’s hard for me to snap out of it. I tend to wallow in it for awhile; put For Emma, Forever Ago on the stereo (who’s lonelier than a broken hearted guy recording an album by himself in a cabin in Wisconsin in the middle of winter?), open a bottle of Pinot, snuggle up to my cat and tell him all of my troubles. Maybe put on a Kieslowski film. Maybe ‘The Double Life of Veronique.’

Why in a world full of people must we feel so damned lonely sometimes? Jean Rhys understands. She gets it. Good Morning, Midnight takes it’s title from the Emily Dickenson poem above. Who was lonelier than Emily Dickenson? No one. Jean understood Emily and I understand Jean. I’ll see your darkness, lady, and raise you one.

... I know all about myself now, I know. You've told me so often. You haven't left me one rag of illusion to clothe myself in. But by God, I know what you are too, and I wouldn't change places...
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,054 followers
March 4, 2012
Good Morning, Midnight is the suicide attempt after the first three Jean Rhys novels. In the river, not thrown in but feet wading in the tepidly toxic puddle. The dirty Seine. The unchosen clothes because they are front and back of the wardrobe still on. I don't know where the shoes are. Probably still on the shelf because there wasn't a fight. Quartet's dirty windows with dirty people inside are back. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie's stillborn turtle shell room walked into the river and came out without the turtle and a flat line reading from a long line of tired radio ad gig girls: "I'm back to where I started. My head hurts and I've been crying for hours for nothing except this sick headache. Everyone could see what's worse is that I give as little a fuck about it as the rest of them." Sophia is the turtle, I guess. Or maybe a snail shell because this is France and they eat their snails. How do they prepare them, anyway? I'm a vegetarian and have no snail eating experience. Do they boil them alive like with lobsters? Twist their gonna get you laid tonight pricey necks off (Sophia is Red Lobster, if you look at price tags or think that people have price tags)? Dump the husks into a big pile of all the shells without snails? The dirty sin.

I don't remember when I first figured out what social anxiety was, that I had it or that anyone else felt like they couldn't do the simplest things without feeling like total shit about it. I think it was after a lot of comments from the peanut gallery. Sophia, Miss First First Person Perspective in a Jean Rhys novel herself, tells her tale about those flashes in a pan moments of bravery when she can forget all and be brave. If you trip and fall into bed (it was already there) and cry and have it all out and then get up again and feel all the eyes staring on you because you MUST look like you've fallen apart and it's much worse that this is the normal to get back to and everyone must know that it's not the end of the world and your normal at all (how awful it's not even the end) is not a flash in anyone's fire. Out of the frying pan and into the cold ashes left over in the place where you wish there was a fire... I wish Sophia was a first person. I've got my moments and a lot of them. I have the sad state of normal, too. I know that which Sophia doesn't know and that's if you can't be yourself you may as well not do anything at all. I do remember one moment in my youth when I sat outside myself and watched someone else go through it and went, "This is exactly how it is." The Glass Menagerie when Laura cannot go to school if she is late because she cannot stop feeling the back of heads eyes and those sixth sense extra hearing that backs of the heads have for a cripple's foot falls. "You're late! We were not late" seperators. ('Menagerie' was pretty much required in our home. My mom thought it was too funny to reenact the "rise and shine" scene on school days.) While I'm on awesome televised plays starring John Malkovich that influenced my teen years, Sophia has a very Lee in (Sam Shepard's) True West moment about people in windows and their lights and how not alone other people look. Maybe it's their windows placed together close to other like looking windows because she's not paying attention to where she's going (she's not walking). That's one of the best parts of the book. I have that feeling all of the time if I go outside and walk around when I'm feeling self conscious.

I know when I started figuring all of this out and reading 'Midnight' is like going back over old notes about figuring all of that out only without the look that stirred the longing for the allowance into that part of someone else and not with the crippling self doubt of my own that I get too damned often after I force me to go on being me (what else is there?). I don't want the self doubt without the look! Good Morning, Midnight is a great book if you want a study in that. I don't want that! Sophia doesn't want to be the receiver of others sad song radio waves and find herself dancing if or if not anyone is around. I do! (I think her radio is broken. Late night fm radio when the crowd looks different drunk and nothing for all day.)

This is me, I'm being me, brain rain go away and don't come back... Maybe I'll go here. Why did I cross that street? Could be that shady guy on the other side and that shady guy is am I doing what everyone else on the street is doing? All the umbrellas in Tokyo are black and all the rain clouds seem to be following only me. Hang out with guys in Paris. You look so lonely. Oh, Sophia, why can't you be like me because I've got it all figured out, baby. Scene guys. If they were around today they could all show up in some ironic website commentary about hipsters. What's worse is that Sophia's own past feels like that as she's sort of thinking about it. It reminded me of reading Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask (I love him but this one is by no means a favorite). He's upset because he's not normal and his idea of what is normal is so confusing it could fit into some driver's ed video on road safety. It's no one. Fitting into this nothing is nothing. Rhys and Mishima aren't like that and this must be the dead silent pause of doubt... It's interesting, in a way, and more killing than inspiring.

These scenesters of hers reminded me of my brother's friends who were always broke and stole and then still borrowed or lent money to everybody else. Did they do anything else but buy beer? I wish that Sophia didn't disappear into this normal herself in her effort to be like them. I was freaking bored with this. What were they doing? Did you do anything but borrow money, quit jobs and fall into bed and cry? If you don't just be yourself then what are you even doing? Do I have to feel dead too?! I know she died because the falling apart ended up where she already was and I could make a guess about dead babies and hospital bracelets and another one of those broken men who loan money. It could be like forgetting your phone number just because you tried to remember it form of social anxiety that Sophia has any time she tries to hold down a job (one of the most "That's how it is" parts for me). I don't want to guess. I want "That's exactly how it is" and I'm holding Rhys to the standard of her other novels. That's there being people to see. (Guessing is lonely.) I feel like all of this crying was for nothing and it's back to some unknowable square one...

The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem:
God 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!

I know who did the rejecting of the day. But night is supposed to fall and it doesn't. Good bye, Midnight. The room curtains are drawn and the view stinks. I have a bad feeling that Rhys was just throwing a nowhere fit this time... If you cry to feel dead...

The photo is "Cafe terrace". There are outdoor cafes and cars out in front. I don't feel anything about these photos in relation to the book. They do remind me of the street cafes in Spanish cities that I always mistook for bus stops from the other side of the street, for some reason. Because of the glass and people. The photo cafes just look stuffed and not necessarily with people. They do seem to go to cafes just for a break in the conversations, in Good Morning, Midnight. I don't know what to say. Want to go to a cafe? Here's the cafe. Back where we started. Maybe that's why there are two of them in the photo.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,896 reviews1,927 followers
December 25, 2015
Rating: A grudging full 1* of five

The Publisher Says: In 1930s Paris, where one cheap hotel room is very like another, a young woman is teaching herself indifference. She has escaped personal tragedy and has come to France to find courage and seek independence. She tells herself to expect nothing, especially not kindness, least of all from men. Tomorrow, she resolves, she will dye her hair blonde.

My Review: I am not a woman. I think one needs to be a woman to appreciate Jean Rhys. I think one needs to be a Lifetime/WE/Oxygen viewer to appreciate Jean Rhys.

Sophia is a fallen woman returning to the scene of the crimes she committed in her youth. Paris being the venue. The details are too tedious to go into here, but suffice it to say that this dimwitted tree-sloth of a souse is almost, but not quite, as much fun to hang around with as a tranquilized heifer.

I hated the book, from its vintage-1970 jacket (uuugh) to its cigarette-scented pages, many of which the last person to check the book out of the liberry (in 1983) was kind enough to sprinkle with hair and dandruff which landed on my chest as I turned them (I almost retched), and then on to its self-pitying, cloying, oh-shut-UP narrative of the nothing that happens to the narratrix.

I didn't like Wide Sargasso Sea, either. I'm putttin' Jean Rhys in the bin. No more.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews947 followers
March 6, 2016
I read this right after reading The Abandoned Baobab , and I found the structure and even the mood strikingly similar. Although Rhys' protagonist is a white woman and does not share Ken's experience as a colonized subject, Rhys herself originated from Dominica which had been under British rule (Dominica is one of the most magical places I have ever been to. I went on a tour there on my 24th birthday, which fell by mad luck on the day off at the end of my training week when I worked at sea). Like Ken in Baobab, Sasha views her mental anguish as a function of her social position and context, including gender and class. Thus, while the novel is entirely steeped in Sasha's fraught consciousness, it moves the reader into the mode of sociopolitical critique.

Thanks to Michele's contribution to this discussion of the book, I read this wonderful paper by Gina Maria Tomasulo Out of the Deep Dark River which compares Good Morning, Midnight to Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground:

"Like Dostoevsky, Rhys uses the topos of the underground to represent her protagonist's retreat from hostile society into a private, subjective realm. However, while Dostoevsky ontologises his subject's alienation, likening it to a 'disease' of 'hyperconsciousness', Rhys locates her protagonist's alienation in the social and material circumstances of her life"

"Rhys' representation of the Underground as a fluid space of memory challenges Dostoevsky's view of the subject as split from his body, from his language and from the world of others"

As Tomasulo points out, in contrast to Dostoevsky's underground man who withholds his servant's wages and strikes his driver, Sasha is enabled by her experience of poverty & victimisation to empathise with others worse or as badly off, such as the mixed-race woman she meets in the hallway of her building, the elderly woman shopping for a hat with her daughter, and the waitress she observes in a café. Sasha bears witness to the suffering of the generous and compassionate Frenchwoman Lise and the two become loving friends, while The Underground Man behaves sadistically towards a similar, kind woman, Liza, rearticulating the framing of sex workers as fallen women in need of moral rescue. Rhys' figure of Lise, with whom Sasha has a loving, non-hierarchical bond, is seen by Tomasulo as an 'ironic commentary' on Liza.

The sex worker Sasha meets, Rene, is another mirror to Liza. Sasha's relationship with him is particularly ambivalent, since while she empathises with him as a victim, she also fears his sexuality and machismo. When he mistreats her, her revenge is to withdraw her sympathy from him (her witnessing, in Tomasulo's framing) since she can no longer identify with him.

Sasha also has a fairly positive association with two Russian men and with an artist friend of theirs, a Jewish man whom she and one of the friends visit. Since she identifies with the artist and feels some relief and return of feeling in the presence of his work, she is moved to buy one of his paintings, as seems to be expected (but certainly not demanded) of her. In discussion of the book, some readers said they did not understand why she bought the painting, but I strongly identified with this action - I have been well conditioned by late consumer capitalism to express my thoughts and feelings, including emotional gratitude, by buying things.

Tomasulo states that Sasha has come to Paris 'to drink herself to death' and she certainly drinks as much as she can, arranging her life methodically as though in single-minded pursuit of passing the time, yet more than anything else, she reminisces. Tomasulo argues that for her the underground is 'a fluid space of memory' where, by remembering through her body (pulling the past over her head like a blanket) she begins to undo her alienation from others. It's possible to imagine an end of this process of working through the past, a recovery of sorts, but Sasha doesn't worry herself with hope, she lives beyond hope, in the freedom of the depths.

Tomasulo also points out that the underground man identifies with and even glories in his own 'repulsive' image, while Sasha is continually aware of and oppressed by a material and psychological need to present herself as psychologically well and socially acceptable, (for example she is devastated when a fellow patron refers to her as 'la vielle' (old woman) while depression constantly moves her to somehow 'violate social decorum', so that she gets thrown out of a place, loses a job or the respect or sympathy of someone she is with. This difference reflects gendered expectations of public conduct and social competence, and the relative intolerance of 'eccentric' or mad behaviour for women. She watches herself anxiously, fusses over her appearance, recovers her spirits after a visit to the hairdresser. Rhys roots such feminine consolation firmly in gendered oppression, but not in order to ridicule them, adding insult to injury

So actually, this is a novel of love honoured and relived in memory, warm compassion, and the reawakening of sensation amidst despair. It is a novel of redemptive reconnection that sutures the grave wounds inflicted by an atomising 'civilisation', that even follows Hito Steyerl's urging to 'embrace alienation' and the freedom that follows from it ('we are this pile of scrap') and shows how we can bear witness to and even heal each other's trauma.
Profile Image for rahul.
105 reviews261 followers
March 3, 2016
Zindagi tujh se har ek saans pai samjhauta karun,
Shaukh jeene ka hai mujhe,
Par itna toh nahi...

O Life! To compromise with you at every breath that I take,
I do have a wish to live,
But not the strength to compromise.

And could I say I understand her loneliness. That I sense it every time she pulls back into herself. She narrates her experiences, the stories that have shattered her. I listen to her silence. Watch her think over things beyond their worth. Sit beside her and wait for a tomorrow, a tomorrow that never comes and never will. Because it was never there. Only blackness of the past and the future.
Would I be able to penetrate her loneliness, through the darkness of our hopelessness felt together.

Do I truly understand Sesha. Her thoughts leading me astray as if in pursuit of a butterfly. Our languages different. Loneliness, teaches one of a new language. A language where words are not said and never received. And to express is to feel lonelier still.

And when hear those questions from her eyes looking at a distance far beyond the next street, the next city, or beyond the Channel to another country.Her words resonating...
Can I help if my heart beats to a rhythm of its own. Do I care if you hear this rhythm too. And if you hear it, if you understand it a little you know far too much. More than I ever intended to say to you.The rhythm has already changed and you aren't listening anymore.

Silence. Loneliness. And between these two,madness.

Madness that comes crawling,
waiting for you to let it in.
Inside your head, and under your tongue.
In the thoughts you dont speak,
And in the words you don't mean.
And when the world leaves you alone, it is only the madness that awaits you in your bed.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,248 followers
January 28, 2016
As usual, I find myself with nothing to say about a classic novel except that it deserves its status as a classic; I wish I'd read it sooner, though I can't decide whether I'd have appreciated it more or less when I was younger; and it will stick with me for a long time. Very simply written but it often feels profound in a quite startling way. I didn't love it when I was reading it, maybe because I found parts of it a bit close to the bone, but I now find that I want to read more Rhys.

A room is a place where you hide from the wolves outside and that's all any room is.

My life, which seems simple and monotonous, is really a complicated affair of cafés where they like me and cafés where they don't, streets that are friendly, streets that aren't, rooms where I might be happy, rooms where I never shall be, looking glasses I look nice in, looking glasses I don't, dresses that will be lucky, dresses that won't, and so on.

I have an irresistible longing for a long, strong drink to make me forget that once again I have given damnable human beings the right to pity me and laugh at me.
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,066 reviews27 followers
June 19, 2021
Having now soldiered through the fourth of Jean Rhys’s autobiographical, alcohol-and-female-dependency-themed novels, I cannot concur with the opinion that the author is “one of the foremost writers of the twentieth-century.” Tales of passive, suggestible, self-pitying, depressive protagonists drifting through life, attempting to sponge off, cling to, and be saved by a succession of invariably unworthy men—sordid dramas which unfold in seedy, sometimes bedbug-infested hotels and squalid boarding houses—don’t do much for me. Stylistically, Rhys may have been a competent enough writer, but style can only take bleak content so far. I don’t see good evidence here that it can turn dark material into literature worth reading. While pushing through these novels over the last couple of weeks, I frequently thought how unfortunate it was for Rhys that she didn’t have access to Alcoholics Anonymous or quality psychotherapy. Hers was no way to go through life. Given the abuse her body suffered, it’s a marvel she was able to write at all and very surprising that she lived into her late eighties.

I think Good Morning, Midnight is Rhys’s most nihilistic work. In it, the depressive protagonist, “Sasha”—observed by a London friend to be laid ever lower by age and drink—is sent to Paris for a couple of weeks’ rest on that friend’s dime. How anyone could believe that a woman in this state might benefit from such a solitary trip is beyond me. Perhaps the friend needed respite from witnessing the spiral of addiction. Once in France, Sasha encounters random men in bars or on the streets—a couple of Russians; a young man, René, a French-Canadian who has recently escaped from his Foreign Legion post in Morocco; and a repugnant commercial traveller who is staying in the same hotel.

The slim plot Rhys offers consists of Sasha drifting from café to café, or restaurant to cabaret, with one or another of these men, a drink at every stop. The reader is also given the woman’s hazy recollections of a failed marriage years before to the shifty Enno, whom she wed when young in order to escape London. Once hopeful that the marriage would be for all-time, in looking back, Sasha regards its end—with Enno’s abandonment of her after the (merciful) death of their infant son—as entirely foreseeable and inevitable. One of the few diversions from a seemingly endless series of scenes in which Sasha fails to connect can be found in the two hours she spends in a Parisian hat shop. (The right hat is critical for preserving any vestige of dignity that remains. The goal: “look normal enough so people won’t stare at you.”) Not surprisingly, though, the episode doesn’t add much interest overall.

I think I knew early on that Rhys wasn’t going to be for me; nevertheless, I effortfully worked through the complete novels in the order that Diana Athill arranged them in the Norton edition. It didn’t take me long to know that, with the possible exception of Wide Sargasso Sea, I was reading them to have read them—to be done with them. And now, thank God, I am. For good.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book489 followers
March 26, 2022

Good Morning, Midnight is the story of a young woman’s plunge into depression and loneliness in the years following World War I. Sasha Jensen, an English woman, who had spent the years immediately following the war with her husband, Enno, a Frenchman, in Paris, finds herself back there retracing her steps through their old haunts and reliving her past. Paris does not seem to be a city of lights in Rhys novel, but one of seediness and gutter trolling.

I’m not sure what I should say about this novel. I had read that it was vaguely autobiographical, and I sincerely hope that is not the case, for this is a book of so much despair and darkness that it was a struggle to continue to read. It is not melancholy that drives Sasha, it is utter despair, and how a person with this little connection to life keeps living is beyond explanation. The ending was just too, too bizarre and awful for my tastes. The haunting promise of the Dickinson poem the title is derived from came flashing to my mind.

Rating the book is equally difficult, because there is not one thing about it I could say I liked, but I can recognize the emotional investment Rhys has made in her character. I thought of A Farewell to Arms, because the desolation of the ending of that novel seems to permeate this one, but while Hemingway is fairly straightforward in the telling of his tale, Rhys writes in the most meandering way, with random thoughts that require a re-read sometimes just to make sure you have caught the sense of them. And, there is the temptation to believe that she mostly wanted to shock her audience by forcing them to view the depravity of the post-war Parisian society.

Perhaps this was just too much of an intellectual and emotional investment for me at this moment in time, or maybe this is Rhys taken too far into herself for my pleasure. I enjoyed Wide Sargasso Sea and think of it fondly, but that was written by an older, perhaps more mellow Rhys. This book was written in 1939, and having come through one World War, Rhys could surely see the world standing at the threshold of the second. I doubt I will think of this book again, and if I do there will not be any fondness. When I closed the cover, I believe the sensation I was feeling was nausea.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,309 reviews757 followers
December 17, 2015

What doesn't kill you will make you fucked up in the head.

They get to them young, you see. They'll believe anything you say.

A woman lasts as long as her looks, and then I'm afraid she's no good anymore.
You mustn't talk, you mustn't think, you must stop thinking. Of course, it is like that.
But they are such sensitive, delicate creatures! Of course we must protect them from the world of self-sufficiency!

She was asking for it, wearing that sort of thing.

Did you see her? Coming in here drunk and filthy and with a man to boot? I'm surprised she had the cheek to show her face.

What kind of place is this anyways, letting someone like her in?

A man needs that sort of thing, you know. Keeps the spirits up, refreshes the soul! The wife never need know, cold and heartless bitch that she is. And besides, those girls aren't fit for anything else, not if they expect to eat.

Three weeks on a daily dose of coffee and bread. Don't forget the booze.

Oh, the child died? Shame. That's all they're really good for, you know. Having children.

You get a sense of where you're not wanted, eventually. Where it's not safe to be.
Only seven or eight, and yet she knew so exactly how to be cruel and who it was safe to be cruel to. One must admire Nature..
Well of course you must spend your last penny on the latest gilt! How else do you expect to be able to go out in public and be seen by respectable folk?

Stupid bitches, the lot of them. Can you imagine them educated and running about? Ha!

Sometimes, the only thing between life and death is a great deal of oversensitivity to the mood swings of general opinion. Especially when they've taught you nothing else.

Behind every man, there is a great woman who was never stripped of her worth and left to fend for herself in infamy when he decided that he was sick of dealing with her self conformed by every whim and fancy of a patriarchal world.

How was I supposed to know she didn't want it? Wasn't my fault she drank so much.

He hit you, did he? And what did you do to provoke that, may I ask?

You could've said no.
You could've not slept with him.
You could've not drunk so much.
You could've been prettier.
You could've made him happier.
You could've.

I could've.
Profile Image for Vipassana.
123 reviews333 followers
March 18, 2023
For your place in a society manage your many faces.

Try to understand yourself. Look inward. Ask yourself many questions. Why do I get so angry at any criticism of my mother, yet I guiltlessly condemn her in public? Why am vying for the attention of this man I loathe? Why can't I kiss that girl who I admire so intensely? Why do my thoughts revolve around other people all the time? Why do I feel choked in my chest when I'm sad? Why am I eating this disgusting combination of nachos and jam?

In public, don't drone. Dance, sing, drink and laugh. It's okay if you go on a tirade, but please don't cry or moan. Feel the pulse of your companions. Don't be radically different, but a few quirks are alright.

If you fail, no one will understand, no matter how much you beg.

Please, please, monsieur et madame, mister, missis and miss, I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don't succeed, but look how hard I try.

And don't be stupider and yell at them either.

Every word I say has chains round its ankles; every thought I think is weighted with heavy weights. Since I was born, hasn't every word I've said, every thought I've thought, everything I've done, been tied up, weighted, chained? And mind you, I know that with all this I don't succeed. Or I succeed in flashes only too damned well. ...But think how hard I try and how seldom I dare. Think - and have a bit of pity. That is, if you ever think, you apes, which I doubt.

The most depressing of all is that none of this will happen. In your head, you'll imagine all of it but to those around you, you'll say nothing. For it is the fate of the broken, to grind themselves to splinters. To turn to dust before death.

Sasha carries the burden that comes with her stereotype. Single, middle aged, fading forlorn looks, depressed alcoholic with a rich fur coat and worn out shoes. The episodes of her troubled life, coupled with her inclination to ponder has left her misanthropic. Though Jean Rhys may have experienced the poverty and loneliness of Sasha, she doesn't let Good Morning, Midnight turn into a tale of her wallowing in self pity. Rhys contrasts the world through Sasha's eyes with the world through other eyes. When Sasha proclaims that all men are cruel, her Russian acquaintance calls out on Sasha contorting her views to indulge in herself. Humans aren't cruel, they are struggling short-sighted egotists. She knows this. She understands the nature of this apparent cruelty. Rosy, wooden, innocent cruelty.

Sasha Jensen is the raw, less refined reality to Hermann Hesse's misanthropic Harry Haller. Harry's struggles lie in the hostility of his mind. The mind can be taught, it can be trained. Hesse shows you how to find the light once the seeds of misanthropy have been sown. Rhys shows you how dark and ugly it can get. Sophia has to deal with more than her mind. Her predicament turns tragic when you add another facet to her stereotype. Woman.

For if you are broken, you will be recognised as such. People have that rosy, wooden, innocent cruelty. What does one do when one see shards of broken china on the road? Crush it with the heel of one's boot.

Why? Rosy, wooden, innocent cruelty.

March 19, 2015
Profile Image for capobanda.
69 reviews51 followers
September 11, 2018
Una donna che invecchia persa tra squallide stanze d’albergo, brandelli di ricordi, echi di dolori, tentativi di cappellini, gli sguardi indifferenti, un vicino cattivo, dei russi improbabili, un probabile gigolò e troppi, troppi Pernod. A Parigi.

Mi è piaciuto in modo allarmante.
Profile Image for [P].
145 reviews512 followers
November 21, 2015
Escape. For a while this was my favourite pastime. When things went wrong, I would flee, with a fleeting moment of joy and optimism in my heart. Things were always going wrong. Of course. Because I was unstable. I gave up everything. I quit a good job. I broke up with my girlfriend. A nice vase isn’t safe on a rickety table. London had done me in. I had done London in. I needed to hide, so I escaped and I went home and I hid. This all seems funny to me now. I started a casual thing, because that was all I was capable of. I borrowed money from my brother. I ran up a debt with the bank. Student overdrafts are marvellous. So I had this casual fling, back home, in hiding. It is easier to hide in pubs and clubs. The lighting is perfect. She invited me to meet her friends, and I did, only I turned up with a bottle of whisky, of which I had already drunk three quarters. She thought it was quixotic, bohemian. You can get away with this sort of thing when you’re twenty two, and they still think you’re cute.

It lasted longer than it ought to have. I was no good to anyone at that time, except as perhaps the subject of an anecdote. I went back to her room one night. She had text me and asked me to come. We had both been out, in different places. I sat on her bed, and I was sure we were going to fuck. That was the point and that was what I was geared up for. But then I burst into tears. Sobbing uncontrollably. Ugly tears that contort your face and your voice until you no longer look or sound human. I’m not a crier. I very seldom cry. I was drunk, certainly, but I’m not an emotional drunk either. This isn’t exactly fun, she said. This is not what I had in mind. Well, quite. I can’t help but laugh as I write all this down. Who in their right mind would have wanted that? It was mortifying. A first-year university student. She was, at last, nose-to-nose with the unpleasant reality of what she had been dabbling in. So, anyway, we tried, but it was impossible, and so I left. And as soon as I got out of there I calmed down, as though it had all been a show. But it wasn’t that, it was because I knew this was the last time I’d see her. I had escaped again.

“My life, which seems so simple and monotonous, is really a complicated affair of cafés where they like me and cafés where they don’t, streets that are friendly, streets that aren’t, rooms where I might be happy, rooms where I shall never be, looking-glasses I look nice in, looking-glasses I don’t, dresses that will be lucky, dresses that won’t, and so on.”

I am desperate to move away from writing these kind of reviews, but unfortunately I can’t help but look for myself in the books I read. Of course, I don’t always succeed, and I don’t always enjoy it when I do. Sometimes I worry that my self-obsession is out of control. Why would I want to search for myself in books like this? Maybe it’s a solidarity thing. Oh look, they are as wretched as I was, at this time or that time. I don’t, however, think I was ever as wretched as Sasha Jansen, the narrator of Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight. Small mercies, and all that. Yes, I do see some of myself in her, but it’s more like looking at my reflection in a dirty, cracked mirror. Maybe that is the point. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that no matter how low you got once upon a time, you never got that damn low. Alike, but not that alike. The novel opens with an already broken Sasha preparing to move to Paris, to, specifically, return to Paris. Escape is important to her too, as is hiding. She says so frequently.

Sasha was not born Sasha. She was born Sophia. This is also part of the escape, the hiding. She tried to reinvent herself. Sasha sounds like more fun than Sophia. Sasha is a sassy sort. Sophia sounds serious. This changing of name is also a way of breaking from her family, her parents, who named her, of course. Sasha’s parents would have preferred her to have drowned herself in the Seine, so putting some distance – literally and symbolically – between her and them makes a lot of sense. At one point in the novel Sasha dreams of a place with no exit sign. “I want the way out,” she says. Her hotel looks onto an impasse. The novel is full of this stuff. Escape, exits, hiding, dead ends. Her hotel room is dark. Her dress ‘extinguishes’ her. As does the luminol – a barbiturate, popular in the 1930’s, that was prescribed to combat insomnia and anxiety – she takes at night.

[Paris in the 1930’s, photographed by Brassaï]

What is ironic about the Paris trip, which is meant to help her, is that it is probably the worst place in the world for her to be. Because hiding is not possible there. A return, as I found myself, is not an escape. She is oppressed by her memories, is forced to relive these memories as she stumbles around Paris, from one familiar place to the next. Here, she did this, my God; and there, well, there is where such and such happened. Yet Sasha’s anxiety is more complex than embarrassment or shame at having shown herself up or been shown up in certain restaurants or cafes; it goes beyond having her nose rubbed in her past experiences. Sasha’s anxiety extends to pretty much every sphere of her existence. If she goes somewhere she is convinced that people are looking at her, and talking about her, and judging her. She thinks herself old, and not attractive. Conversation, all interaction, is excruciating, for her and for the reader. I have come across very few characters that are as relentlessly terrified and lonely and unhappy as this one. She’s not a hot mess. She’s just a mess, period. The only reason she is still alive, she says, is because she doesn’t have the guts to end it all.

Yet she hasn’t given up on herself, she wants to look and feel nice. She wants new hair, a pretty dress, a flattering hat. These things don’t or won’t help, but she wants them. Not for a man, either. For herself. Men play a strange role in the novel. They seem to almost emerge out of the shadows, taking Sasha and the reader by surprise. The gigalo. The Russians. The man in the white dressing gown. Strange men approach her, and us, out of the blue. Perhaps they smell the desperation. But then I guess this kind of thing happens to women a lot in real life. You’re walking down a street, feeling lousy or great or whatever, and some guy makes himself a fact, a part of your day. I’ve always thought that must be exhausting, to be a woman and be expected to give every sleazy Tom, Dick and Harry your attention merely because they want it, to be forced to give it even in telling them to fuck off. No man knows what that is like, no matter how good-looking. The problem for Sasha is that she has no defence system against this sort of thing. She’s easily manipulated because, despite her bitterness, she, ultimately, wants to be liked, she wants company.

To state the obvious, Good Morning, Midnight is not an upbeat book. It is a book to drag through your hair. Sasha isn’t likeable. No one in it is likeable. There isn’t a single hint at redemption or possible happiness. The ending is awful; it is, in fact, the worst part. I wouldn’t, however, want to call it an authentic portrayal of serious depression, of someone staring into the abyss, because what is authentic? I shy away from the word autobiographical also, despite being aware of some of the similarities between her character and Rhys herself. To talk in that way suggests that the author simply spewed her life and experiences onto the page. No. Anyone can be depressed, anyone can be suicidal, but not everyone is talented enough to have written this book.

It is important to point out that there is method here, there is artistry. There are some great lines, for example, things like “there must be the dark background to show up the bright colours.” There is style too, which I would compare to Louis-Ferdinand Celine, a man who also wrote caustic, near-plotless monologues, rife with ellipses…although Rhys’ ellipses suggest broken trains of thought, confusion, sluggishness, rather than, as with Death on Credit, recklessness, tension, and breakneck speed. As with Celine, I’m sure many will liken Good Morning, Midnight to writers like Henry Miller. But that doesn’t stand up. Miller was a publicist, a myth-maker, a self-aggrandiser. Which is part of the reason why I so dislike his work. Not everyone takes stock of their life and finds that, actually, it’s full of booze, whores and good times. And, sure, not everyone finds that it is hopeless either, but I’d rather attend a pity-party [and Sasha is absolutely self-pitying] than drink down Miller’s balls-sweat.
Profile Image for Mark.
180 reviews76 followers
May 30, 2017
We fought sometimes, Jean and I.

Midnight started well. We're introduced to narrator, Sasha Jensen, as she prepares to leave her claustrophobically secure room to find a place to have her nightly drink. This is a scene replicated many times throughout the novel. From the beginning we're aware that things in Sasha's world are shit. Just shit. In first person narration Sasha brings her world to life, gives us the skinny on why things are in fact as bad as they seem. But information does not come quickly. Sasha is a damaged person and though she has a bad habit of trusting the wrong people, despite her own wariness, she does not yet trust us her readers. If you want to know what's going on you have to gain her confidence. It's a bit of work sometimes, but it's worth undertaking.

Sometimes Sasha would feel extra sorry for herself. This was when she and I fought. She would tell me how things were so bad because of the way people treated her and I would look at it, removed from emotion at this early stage in our acquaintance, and say to her, "But you did such-and-such to yourself. Don't you see that? So why are you feeling sorry for yourself when you did it? You were mistrustful of people from the beginning, but you went along with it," and Sasha would go on a little longer, dancing around the topic and then she would throw a punch that landed right between my eyes and I would concede, "Oh, oh. Oh. Yeah, I see what you're saying. Carry on," and she would. But she still kept me at arm's length. Me, her reader. Imagine!

The instances where an important truth was revealed were often slow in coming, or slower than I expected, and there were several, several pages of self-loathing to wade through before they were revealed. But all in good time. We were just getting to know each other, she and I.

With each revelation, my head began to pound. The space between my eyes became a spreading bruise: first a little yellow, then dark lime, then bright blue, and finally deepest black.

With each revelation I dropped more and more of my feeble attempt to make her understand that things weren't so bad as all that. If she was so fed up with people, I reasoned previously, why not tell those people to fuck off and be done with it?

But it's not that easy, is it, Jean?

I got to know Sasha in four acts. By the third act I began to listen seriously to what she was telling me. It was at this point that the fighting stopped. By the final act, I found myself reaching out desperately for her. Your hand, Sasha, give me your hand!! But when you have taken this much shrapnel in life, you tend to me mistrustful of even the hand that wishes to save you. Save you from life, from yourself.

It's best not to speak of endings. Sometimes they're so final. Sometimes so open-ended. But I like to think that wherever Sasha is, she has found some kind of peace in her life. Or is happily, finally taking the big sleep she so desperately wanted but could not give to herself.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
868 reviews1,097 followers
August 26, 2015
Well this was depressing. Not that it bothered me particularly, because we all know that I get drawn to depressing/tragic books like a moth to a flame (to use an overused expression).

This follows the narrator Sofia as she returns to Paris to try and live a solitary existence, despite the personal tragedy she has undergone previously that ties her to the city itself. I won't go into what happened to her, as this is for the reader to slowly find out. However, I will say that I think her character's thoughts and emotions were communicated perfectly.

Apparantly at the time of publication, the critics praised the writing of this book, but said that it was unenjoyable due to its depressing subject matter. However, I think that it was an incredibly brave text to release at the time (1939) for it painted a woman's sexuality in a very frank way, and didn't shy away from difficult subjects. We see her drinking alone in bars, going out with different men (including a gigolo), and generally come to terms with her existence as a solitary woman, and I appreciated that vision created by Rhys.

I'm glad I read this first, and didn't start with Wide Sargasso Sea, undoubtedly her most well-known and possibly most popular novel. I assume that it can only get better from here, but I do plan to read as much of Jean Rhys's work as possible.
Profile Image for Paula Mota.
967 reviews309 followers
May 10, 2020
“Tenho um pouco de autómato, mas lúcido, indiscutivelmente – seco, frio e lúcido. Agora já esqueci as ruas escuras, os risos escuros, a dor, a luta e o afogamento... Atenção, não estou a falar da luta quando se é forte e bom nadador e há amigos prontos e ansiosos na margem à espera para nos tirarem de lá no menor sinal de aflição. Refiro-me a quando é a sério. Salta-se sem amigos prontos e ansiosos à volta, e quando nos afundamos, afundamo-nos com o acompanhamento de gargalhadas sonoras.

Não vou revelar muito sobre esta história contada em fluxo de consciência, porque vale realmente a pena perceber aos poucos e poucos a realidade da mulher que protagoniza “Bom-dia, Meia-Noite” e quão duvidosa ela é como narradora.
Jean Rhys prova aqui que uma pessoa pode ser decadente mas lúcida e que pode estar na sarjeta sem contudo ter pena de si própria. Quando a vida nos dá limões, juntemos-lhe uma pitada de cinismo.

“No fim da primeira semana decidi matar-me – a habitual inalação de clorofórmio. Na próxima semana, ou no próximo mês, ou no próximo ano mato-me. Mas já agora posso esgotar o mês da renda, que já está paga, e o meu crédito para pequenos-almoços de manhã.
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