Let’s remember, remember some literary greats, under the loose (forgive me) but hopefully compelling theme of RETROSPECTION.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Memories infuse, tamper and disrupt in Mrs Dalloway, and the present is one of a number of states competing for our narrator’s attention.
Childhood sweethearts bound energetically into the picture, resurrecting an eroticism that seems all but lost in Clarissa’s fading, ageing body. Adolescent scenes knit neatly into her daily activities, undermining the authoritative, solemn ticking of linear time. This is particularly acute in Woolf’s presentation of the shell-shocked Septimus Smith, who spies dead comrades in London parks. Reality is precarious, a hinterland of jarring presents that never collude to form a coherent picture. This is Woolf’s masterful reaction to the uncertainty of the interwar years, as those other pillars of certainty – class, crown and country – are thrown into question.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Who really is mad? The woman in the attic, or the man who locked her up in there?
In this prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the ghoulish Bertha is reclaimed by Jean Rhys, and her infamous role as the governess’s tormentor is turned on its head. Rhys breathes a complex and empathetic new life into this caricature of female madness, and we begin to glimpse her fall from grace through a new lens – as a tragic victim of patriarchy. Harrowing, shrewd and poetic, Wide Sargasso Sea is a searing reinstating of a side-lined character in the white, western canon, and an empowering lending of voice to the silenced.
‘When I try to analyse my own cravings, motives, actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives and which causes each visualized route to fork and re-fork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of my past.’
A brilliant warning on the dangers of the single perspective, as Humbert Humbert cleverly seduces the reader into a curious complicity with an abhorrent crime. Distance and time enable him to spin his manipulative, unpalatable behaviour into a sort of love story – in part, because we have nowhere else to look, and because this retrospective rendering offers a pleasant unity to a very ugly series of events.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Without ruining too much for any prospective reader, this charming and poetic plot hinges on what may or may not have happened in narrator Charlie’s childhood. It is about what we carry through our lives, and how such emotional warfare manifests in our personality and our choices. Charlie is very much coming-of-age – growing, defying any impression of a coherent adult whole, but his past experiences threaten to define and enclose him in ways he resists. This is an honest, funny and beautiful mediation on adolescence, of straddling identities and coming out on the other end.
Words by Tara Al Azzawi
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