Big Brother Book Club: The Professor and the Madwoman


Heading downtown on the 1, we spotted a man engrossed in <em><a href=””>Wide Sargasso Sea</a></em> by Jean Rhys. If we’re going to play seven degrees of separation, Rhys is two degrees away from Emily Brontë, the star of last week’s column. <em>Wide Sargasso Sea</em> is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë ’s (Emily’s sis) <a href=””>Jane Eyre</a>, another favorite that you probably read in high school. Rhys chooses as her subject the source of brooding Edward Rochester’s pain, his mad wife Bertha Mason, who he has locked in the tower of his creepy estate, Thornfield Manor. The novel chronicles her life pre-Rochester, as Antoinette Cosway in the Caribbean, and reflects on postcolonialism and patriarchy, as evidenced by Rochester’s acquisition and destruction of her Creole heritage. We love this novel for giving Bertha, the most exciting and surprising plot twist in <em>Jane Eyre</em>, a voice, one that Charlotte Brontë  may not have been capable of giving due to the limited world view of colonialism in the 19th Century.


A favorite from Zadie Smith also appeared, her latest, <a href=””><em>On Beauty</em></a>, a story set in the academic world of a New England Liberal Arts college. At the start, the plot focuses on Art History professor Howard Belsey’s obsessive grudge against his nemesis, Monty Kipps. It becomes a story about relationships and family and engages with themes of gender, race, sexuality, religion, and American and British identity. Ever since <em>On Beauty</em> we’ve been waiting impatiently for Smith’s next book, which we hear won’t be coming any time soon. We’re still kicking ourselves for missing out on her lecture, “Speaking in Tongues,” at the New York Public Library.

Also noticed, Toni Morrison’s <em><a href=”″>Love</a></em> and a few quick-read crime novels, <em><a href=”″>The Archbishop of Andalusia</a></em>by Andrew M. Greeley, <em><a href=”″>Bones</a></em> by Jonathan Kellerman, and <em><a href=”″>Affliction</a></em> by Russell Banks. The intellectual thriller <em><a href=”″>The End of Mr. Y</a></em> by Scarlett Thomas was being read on the platform at 59th Street, Columbus Circle. We see on Amazon that it’s gotten pretty mediocre reviews. A few days later, as we got off the train at 42nd Street and headed toward the exit, we noticed a man reading a thick, red, hardback volume that read Stalin across the spine.

There were a couple stars from former weeks. Paolo Coelho appears yet again, with <em><a href=”″>The Witch of Portobello</a></em>. The popularity of Brontë stays strong; there was another appearance, the second week in a row, of Emily’s chilly classic <em><a href=””>Wuthering Heights</a></em>.

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