All I Ever Needed Was a Beautiful Room

Description

72 pages
Contains Photos
$7.95
ISBN 0-88982-073-2
DDC C811'

Publisher

Year

1987

Contributor

Reviewed by Betsy Struthers

Betsy Struthers is a poet and novelist and the author of Found: A Body.

Review

This, Patricia Young’s third book, is a sequence of poems in the voice of the minor British novelist, Jean Rhys, as portrayed through her autobiographical fiction. It is one more example of the narrative tradition based on relatively obscure between-the-wars literary figures that have blossomed since Stephen Scobie won the Governor General’s Award for McAlmon’s Chinese Opera (Quadrant) in 1980.

All I Ever Needed Was a Beautiful Room is an “appreciation” of Rhys’s characters and personal history. In her most famous novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys interpreted the madness of Charlotte Bronte’s Mrs. Rochester through the lens of her own experience as a colonial Creole in Edwardian England in a vivid evocation of alienation and displacement. Young is on the outside of this identification of author and subject, her tone too often ironic and distant. Many of the poems, especially in the first two and final sections, suffer from prosaic sentiment and slip into unfortunate cliche: “Always pushing a dead stone / up a hill and watching it / roll back down.” The jaded weariness of the persona added to the seeming necessity to tell the readers all the literal biographical facts becomes self-conscious in this writing.

But there are moments of beauty and insight when the poet speaks out through her fictions for herself. Strong images and rhythmic language illuminate the three poems chronicling “Julia’s” disintegration into despair; the courage of “Sasha’s” survival: “Rooms and dresses have this power / to transform, to start you noticing / how sweet the air is on a Paris afternoon”; and “Antoinette’s” anger: “Things like the swish of my red dress, the taste / of fire and sunset on my tongue.” In these poems, Young transcends the limits of narrative biography to reveal a spirit valiant and anguished in its cynicism. “Jean” herself should have the last word:

More than anything I wish he’d known
of my later success. That I died
almost famous, almost chic,
wearing pearl earrings.

 

Citation

Young, Patricia, “All I Ever Needed Was a Beautiful Room,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34680.