Jean Rhys Reading Week discussion

After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie
This topic is about After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie
After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie

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message 1: by Eric (last edited Jul 21, 2016 06:15AM) (new)

Eric Anderson (lonesomereader) | 26 comments Mod
Discuss Jean Rhys' second novel After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931)

message 2: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (canonette) | 6 comments Is this still in print? It's the only Jean Rhys novel I haven't read.

message 3: by Tonymess (new) - added it

Tonymess | 3 comments Penguin did have a copy in print ISBN 9780141183947 which I ordered a few weeks ago (yet to arrive), but it did say the edition was from 2000 - so I'm hoping it turns up!

There is also a Norton USA Edition from 1999 that is available online at the usual places ISBN 9780393315479

message 4: by Ruth (new)

Ruth (canonette) | 6 comments Thanks. I will search online for it.

message 5: by Margaret (new)

Margaret (sorefoot) | 4 comments All of her books are easily available from any online seller or good bookstore.

JacquiWine | 22 comments Mod
Hi everyone,

In preparation for the event, I went back to After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, a novella I reviewed last year – if it's of interest, you can read my initial piece here:

Revisiting this book again, I was struck by a few additional things – firstly the author’s use of imagery to convey the harshness of the environment in which Julia, the central character, finds herself. Here’s a short quote from the Paris section of the story.

The lights of the cafés were hard and cold, like ice. (p. 16)
Similarly, London is portrayed as a cold and terrifying place offering little comfort to Julia, in her hours of greatest need.

It was the darkness that got you. It was heavy darkness, greasy and compelling. It made walls round you, and shut you in so that you felt you could not breathe. You wanted to beat at the darkness and shriek to be let out. And after a while you got used to it. Of course. And then you stopped believing that there was anything else anywhere. (p. 62)

There are lots of references to animals too. One gets the sense that the Rhys protagonist considers animals to be rather more dignified than many of the people she is forced to deal with. What you see is what you get, so to speak – with these creatures there is no pretence.

Julia said: ‘Animals are better than we are, aren’t they? They’re not all the time pretending and lying and sneering, like loathsome human beings.’ (p. 97)

Once again, the cruelty of society at the time comes through loud and clear. In effect, Julia is considered an outsider. Marginalised by her former lovers and family members alike, she is virtually forced into begging for assistance, an experience she knows will almost certainly end in utter humiliation.

Her face was red. She went on talking in an angry voice: ‘They force you to ask – and then they refuse you. And then they tell you all about why they refuse you. I suppose they get a subtle pleasure out of it, or something.’

Mr Horsfield said: ‘Subtle pleasure? Not at all. A very simple and primitive pleasure.’

‘It’s so easy to make a person who hasn’t got anything seem wrong.’ (pp. 64-65)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what really struck me was the precision of Rhys’ prose style. There are no superfluous words or descriptions here; everything is pared back to the bone to focus on the characters’ emotions. The use of descriptive passages is limited to those instances where the provision of some element of context is deemed vital to the story. As a consequence, the full effect is incredibly striking.

The members of my book group read this novel with me. As I had fully expected, opinions were fairly mixed with around half of the group feeling very little empathy or sympathy for Julia while others felt more understanding of the vulnerability of her position. Everyone found something different in the book, especially in relation to Julia, which is an interesting finding in itself.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel if you’ve read it.

message 7: by Melanie (last edited Sep 17, 2016 10:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Melanie (melwyk) I read this one as well, and have many of the same reactions as JacquiWine. My review is finally up, but I'm still thinking about this novel, and about the character of Julia, and will probably have more to say about this deceptively slim novel.

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