The mad woman in the attic…

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Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books: I love how Jane speaks out for herself in a world that tries to deny her a voice; I love the flawed hero Mr Rochester, even though I shouldn’t; and perhaps most of all, I love the mad woman in the attic, Bertha Mason, the representation of the madness hiding beneath the surface of the repressed Victorian woman.

Surprisingly though, I have never read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys before. It is one of those books that has always been on my ‘to read’ list, yet I’ve never gotten around to. Until now anyway.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre, set in Jamaica, telling the story of how Antoinette Mason became the first Mrs Rochester and how she was driven to madness by her husband.

Rochester’s selfishness is apparent in Jane Eyre and in this story Rhys goes one step further: he is possessive, refusing to let go of his wife when she wants to leave; he becomes obsessed over her race and background, struggling to come to terms with her sensuality.

The style is very different to Jane Eyre, but that in itself helps to bring to life the ‘otherness’ of Antionette,  the very thing that her husband struggles to come to terms with. I always find alternative viewpoint narratives fascinating and this was no different: the tale of the mad woman becomes very different when seen from her point of view. A controlling, cheating husband who drags you half-way across the world only to lock you up… maybe the madness is not so surprising after all.

A fascinating, brilliantly written story and an absolute must for Jane Eyre fans.

‘Zoo’ by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

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I’ve never read anything by James Patterson before, but having watched the TV series of Zoo last year I decided to give this a go (to be honest, I was in search of a more satisfying ending).

Now, when you look up James Patterson online there is some controversy surrounding his ‘bestselling writer’ status as he co-writes a large number of his books. The cynic within me wonders to what extent ‘James Patterson’ is a brand, designed to sell books by less well known authors.

That aside, this was a definite page – turner. The plot was fast – paced and as a thriller it generally worked: I read it quicker and quicker, keen to find out what would happen next. However (and I almost can’t believe I’m about to write this) the TV series was actually better than the book.

Writing style aside (which was ok; this was never going to be literary!), I think I found it difficult to warm to the main character of Jackson Oz, who fit his own definition of himself as a crazy end-of-the-world blogger. Chloe, I felt, was fairly 2 dimensional, and there were no other characters within the story who the reader could form a particular connection with.

And was the ending any more satisfying? I hope I won’t spoil it for anyone when I say, not really.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – illustrated edition

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I first read the Harry Potter series (well the first 4 anyway, as the rest hadn’t been published at the time) in the summer after I finished my A levels. I couldn’t drive and my workplace was 2 inconveniently timed bus journeys away – plenty of reading time while sat at bus stops. I enjoyed them right away and probably caught on to the Harry Potter craze at about the same time as a lot of other people.

For anyone who may not be aware of the plot, Harry Potter is a wizard, and not just any wizard. He survived a killing curse as a baby, defeating evil wizard Voldemort in the process. He has no idea of this, having been brought up by his non-magical  (Muggle) Aunt and Uncle, until his 11th birthday, when he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He makes new friends, learns to use magic and discovers that Voldemort may not be quite so dead and gone as everyone believes.

When I first saw that there was a new illustrated edition of the book (and I believe the whole series is to be published as illustrated novels over the next few years) I was dubious as to whether it was worth buying a book I already own just for a few pictures – would it really be worth it?

In the end, I saw a few of the images online and decided to give it a go and I am so glad I did. I still love the story and having this copy of the book gave me a good excuse to re-read it. And the illustrations, well, they are amazing. There are a real mixture: small pictures of specific objects; large portraits of specific characters; images taken from textbooks mentioned in the story; landscapes; alongside more traditional illustrations of events within the story. They add a richness to the text and have a really magical feel, developing an effective sense of atmosphere. It’s hard to pick a favourite but at a push I might go with the images of Diagon Alley – the topsy-turvey magical street where all kinds of wizarding products can be found – the sheer level of detail in the picture makes it one that I spent a good deal of time looking through, picking out the various references to the book.