‘All this passport business is only because it’s wartime,’ I said. ‘They’ll stop it as soon as the war’s over.’ He smiled a little and said, ‘Perhaps, perhaps.’
Jean Rhys’s work portrays a series of rooms, a life composed of rooms occupied; the movement from room to room. Often in her work there is a sense of the uncanny, the unhomely, where the unfamiliar masquerades as familiar and vice versa. When I lived in London, I used to fixate on a few cheap looking hotels near Finsbury Park. They represented a kind of disengagement for me, an escape from real life. Reading Rhys, I found myself wanting to put into words, that sense of departure and of estrangement.
Rhys heroines are fatalistic partly because their lives are precarious. They are unable to make tangible plans because the instability of their lives, and their economic and existential uncertainty, means that they live moment to moment, not knowing what might happen next. It it this living by chance that opens up to expansiveness, or closes down to disappointment and empty feelings. This creates a sense of tension, between hope and despair.