SMILE PLEASE by Jean Rhys

SMILE PLEASE

An Unfinished Autobiography (penguin Twentieth-century Classics)
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unfinished indeed, and uncharacteristically unshaped; these little chapters of memory--some of them just first drafts, most of them dictated in old age--offer several vivid, spare Rhys paragraphs and more than a few arresting moments, but with virtually no cumulative effect. First, bits on growing up in a quasi-colonial world on the West Indian isle of Dominica: superstitious, teasing black nurse Meta ("the terror of my life"), who showed "me a world of fear and distrust, and I am still in that world"; convent school, feeling the hate of black classmates; melancholy mother, distantly doodling father; and, above all, words and books ("Before I could read. . . I imagined that God, this strange thing or person I heard about, was a book"). Then. . . off with an aunt to England, where Rhys went to drama school, became a touring chorus girl, had her first love affair-cumabortion-and-breakdown (Poem: "I didn't know/ I didn't know/ I didn't know"), and learned to loathe landladies everywhere. And finally (with Rhys' notes becoming ever more perfunctory)--marriage, Paris, motherhood (one infant died), divorce, remarriage. Plus: free-associative inner dialogues from a 1947 diary (which would take well to a dramatic reading); a reprinted musing on "My Day" from Vogue; and an intriguing foreword by Rhys' longtime editor Diana Athill. True, Rhys put most of her life into her novels and stories', nonetheless one feels acute disappointment here that a full autobiography was never written. In any case, Rhys' readers will want to dip into these thin, suggestive sketches--for the clues and parallels to the fiction, for the moment when the depressed chorine first started writing (filling three exercise books at 20, then not looking at them for seven years).
Pub Date: May 28th, 1980
ISBN: 0140184058
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1980




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