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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.


This book initially reminded me of a similar, literary-based relationship between a younger male writer and an older female: that between Robert Duncan and H.D. Duncan's idiosyncratically autobiographical approach to criticism characterises his writing on H.D. and I was hoping for a similarly individual yet insightful treat. While the participants here, Lykiard and Rhys, mirror this relationship in terms of gender and age, beyond these parallels, however, the similarity ends.

Lykiard's intentions are to offer an associative, personalised account of his involvement with Jean Rhys and her writing and his book is both an act of homage to her and an attempt to explain her life and writing, as understood by another writer. Jean Rhys, the woman and the writer, is ostensibly the single, central thread of this book, but Lykiard stretches it to breaking point in his ramblings, speculations and associations, and in his own autobiographical inclusions. Weaving together memoir, criticism, social history, biography and autobiography demands a delicate tension, a tautness of narrative which simultaneously holds and stretches the individual parts in a connective, finely woven through somewhat elastic web. The balance between licence and limitation is difficult to achieve; without it, such texts become indulgent and disconnected, a loose affiliation of incidents and ideas. Although the blurb celebrates the different components of this multi-generic work, the book's title suggests this embrace may be an afterthought rather than a statement of initial intent.

This is not to say that Lykiard is not insightful ...

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