Book #33

Till September Petronella by Jean Rhys

In stories that span the course of a lifetime—from childhood in the Caribbean to adolescent modelling in Paris; and from lonely adulthood to old age and beyond—here are women adrift, at sea, down but not quite out.

Now, I have had my concerns in the past with Penguin’s ability to put together a collection, but this time they seem to have triumphed. These four short stories by Rhys are so carefully selected and arranged that they seem to span the entirety of life, and have such a gracious flow.

They are bleak in their reality, dealing with feelings of isolation and helplessness, the sensation of life slipping away, and notions of being utterly detached from everyone around it. All feelings I have felt, and will no doubt continue to feel, and ones which I’m sure will be familiar to most women.

It’s impossible to read these without some feeling of sisterhood, and yet Rhys casts light on the futility of anyone coming to the aid of any of her protagonists. This meaning is particularly strong in the titular story, where Petronella convinces herself everything will be better in September; since the year in question is 1914, we know a promise of improvement to be unlikely.

A special mention to the final, and shortest story, I Used to Live Here Once - it’s mournful, brimming with longing, and possibly one of the saddest and most frightening ghost stories I’ve ever read.

Such wonderful melancholy; I’m thankful to have been introduced to Rhys here.