Tigers are Better Looking which includes some stories from an earlier collection The Left Bank is, for this reader anyway, a mixed bag but what struck me straight away is how modern all the stories are I can t believe a lot of them were written in the 1920s and 30s.Because I m researching Paris in the 1920s I started with The Left Bank stories first As an introduction there is a very patronising preface from Ford Maddox Ford who bemoans the fact Rhys doesn t like to use topography of the region or descriptive passages as her business is with passion, hardship and emotions I m afraid I was a little disappointed as well because I was counting on local colour in the stories However, I m not disappointed that I went on to read all the stories.Illusion is a marvellous character study From a French Prison is interesting too and points to some of the hardships Rhys must have seen in her lifetime Mannequin too highlights a world almost gone except for the life of the top fashion models At six o clock Anna was out in the rue de la Paix her fatigue forgotten, the feeling that now she really belonged to the great, maddening city possessed her and she was happy in her beautifully cut tailor made and a beret.Georgette passed her and smiled Babette was in a fur coat.All up the street the mannequins were coming out of the shops, pausing on the pavements a moment, making them as gay and as beautiful as beds of flowers before they walked swiftly away and the Paris night swallowed them up I really liked the last two paragraphs of Tea With an Artist The short story Mixing Cocktails makes you want to read of Rhys writing about the West Indies as does the story Again the Antilles Hunger is one of Rhys s short stories that could have been written just twenty or thirty years ago La Grosse Fifi is a classic story Vienne, unfortunately didn t speak to me at all Lots of gossip and nothing that really reached me.In Tigers are Better Looking my favourite story and from the whole book actually is Let Them Call it Jazz It begins One bright Sunday morning in July I have trouble with my Notting Hill landlord because he ask for a month s rent in advance He tell me this after I live there since winter, settling up every week without fail I have no job at the time, and If give the money he want there s not much left So I refuse The man drunk already at that early hour, and he abuse me all talk, he can t frighten me And there we have it Immediately we are in this world of a young woman from the Caribbean trying to make ends meet in London in the 1920s Everything about her is different The way she acts, talks, dresses and the way she views things It is a marvellous story My second favourite story is Till September Petronella A fascinating look at a young woman s peripatetic lifestyle dependant almost entirely on the whims of men The Day They Burned the Books is another literary glimpse into Rhys s childhood The title story I m afraid was another that eluded me, so too The Lotus but Outside the Machine and A Solid House are strange but enjoyable stories The Sound of the River is another haunting story And to wrap up I ll leave you with a few words from that story If I could put it into words it might go, she was thinking Sometimes you can put it into words almost and so get rid of it almost Sometimes you can tell yourself I ll admit I was afraid today I was afraid of the sleek smooth faces, the rat faces, the way they laughed in the cinema I m afraid of escalators and dolls eyes But there aren t any words for this fear The words haven t been invented. I write about this book here s a brief excerpt many of Rhys stories were inspired by elements of her own life Some of her women are eking out a living as chorus girls or artists models others are confined to tawdry rooms, seeking refuge in drink and sleeping tablets Several are hanging on to life by the thinnest of threads.Petronella, the protagonist of Till September Petronella, has hit a bad patch in life Feeling depressed following the departure of her friend to Paris, she takes a trip to the country to see a young man, an artist by the name of Marston If little else it will make a change from her dark and dingy room in the city, a chance to experience some country air for a couple of weeks However, on her arrival at the cottage, Petronella is made to feel very uncomfortable indeed Marston s friends, Julian and Frankie, are unkind to her, treating her with contempt and disrespect In the end, Petronella decides to leave, even though the thought of returning to her Bloomsbury bedsit is utterly dispiriting Cheer up, he said The world is big There s hope Of course But suddenly I saw the women s long, scowling faces over their lupins and their poppies, and my room in Torrington Square and the iron bars of my bedstead, and I thought, Not for me p 28 This story illustrates a number of themes associated with the vulnerable female protagonists in Rhys fiction the utter absence of hope in their lives their marginalisation from conventional society note the mention of the women s long, scowling faces in the passage above, a sure sign of disapproval from respectable people, especially other women and finally, their attractiveness to the opposite sex As she is travelling back to London, Petronella attracts the attention of two men the first is a kindly farmer, a chap who imagines Petronella as someone he could see in the city and have a good time with the second is a man she meets at the taxi rank at Paddington Station When the latter takes Petronella to dinner, a familiar scenario plays out.And everything was exactly as I had expected The knowing waiters, the touch of the ice cold wine glass, the red plush chairs, the food you don t notice, the gold framed mirror, the bed in the room beyond that always looks as if its ostentatious whiteness hides dinginess p 33 The story ends on a poignant note, the memory of a time when Petronella felt utterly exposed It s a haunting image.To read the rest of my review, click here Completely bowled over Her prickly and precarious narratives of women, men, and other women were spot on muse as outsider, as underdog I felt a complete affinity with her voice Each story was succinct and began and ended at the precisely right moment One of my favorite passages I had touched the right spring even the feeling of his hand on my arm changed Always the same spring to touch before the sneering expression will go out of their eyes and the sneering sound out of their voices Think about it it s very important from Till September Petronella Published in 1968, featuring stories that go back to 1927, almost anything in TIGERS ARE BETTER LOOKING could have been written yesterday I think it s the directness the author s voice It breaks though the barrier of time The Sound of the River an account of the death of Jean Rhys s husband even reminded me of Tobias Wolff That story, and Till September Petronella , were my favourites in the collection.Less successful, I thought, were the pieces selected from THE LEFT BANK sketches than stories, in the most part, put down with less assurance and control But then, it was her first published book and her distinctive style was not yet fully developed. I love her drawing, the economy with which she touches up her interior scenes. Really interesting to read another female writer in the vein of Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf etc That dreamlike flow of thoughts, feelings, it s visual, you can taste and smell it Her characters are strange indeed, yet we re taken right inside their minds in a flash I liked it but found it kept slipping through my fingers. I read every one of Jean Rhys novels between the ages of 18 and 22 because I couldn t get enough of her drunken, promiscuous and slightly bewildered heroines wandering through the early 20th century avant garde Accidentally encountering this Guardian article online reminded me of her and of reading Voyage in the Dark in a London bedsit shortly after arriving there, feeling the romanticized exhilaration of alienation and feeling like Anna longing for sunshine in the midst of the judgmental English greyness That article and those memories sent me searching through all three second hand book shops in my neighbourhood for these stories.This book combines parts of two collections of short stories written four decades apart Tigers are Better Looking 1968 and The Left Bank 1927 The stories in Tigers are Better Looking tend to be brilliantly constructed and utterly devastating Like much of Rhys writing they are about the limitations of female identity in a patriarchal world and about the limits of agency when you are forever told that you are the object of the story rather than the subject A sense of futility underpins many of these stories, many of which feature characters who quite clearly seem to be suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness When I was reading them I kept thinking that the miserable greyness of December was the wrong time to approach this subject matter My favourite three stories in this section of the book, Till September Petronella, Let Them Call it Jazz and the title story, are also significantly about multiple oppressions, that is the way that gender, race and class intersect in Rhys heroines and in the title story, sexuality and Rhys male hero s experiences Rhys has a gift for dialogue and I love the way her stories are filled with archaic slang and the way she builds the sense of devastation by giving the characters around her protagonists the most horrendous things to say It is through these horrendous statements, and Rhys protagonists frequent inability to respond, or even feel, that Rhys lays bare these oppressions in action The selection of stories taken from the Left Bank vary quite a bit, with some being little than sketches Read in tandem with the later stories, they mostly provide a fascinating look at the development of Rhys writing They also provide a view into the European avant garde of the 1920s, with a few stories that reflect back to Rhys childhood in the late 19th century Caribbean To me, they read like a night of drinking, with the earlier stories reading quite lucidly and the later ones becoming increasingly scattered and disjointed until the booze saturated Vienne which ends with the protagonist quite literally fleeing across Europe.I think Jean Rhys was a brilliant writer and her work remains an important perspective on female identity Her life, and the thinly disguised autobiography in the lives of her characters, is also amazing in its outlawness in her refusal to behave well or even obtain a modicum of anything approaching a domestic ideal of femininity But, I have to say, now that I m older and spend less time partying and being cool primary activities of many of Rhys characters , I find her writing less compelling I want her characters to do something anything and to feel even slightly in control of their own destinies Reading this also made me feel grateful to have been born almost 90 years after Rhys, at a time when women have choices and when we have the language as a culture to discuss mental illness Yes, this is book is amazing, but it is also extraordinarily depressing. Tigers Are Better Looking Incorporates Selections From Jean Rhys S First Book Of Stories, The Left Bank, Published In , And Later Stories Written After In Them She Encompasses Within A Few Pages Both The Gaiety And Charm Of Youth And Love, And An Awareness Of All That Threatens ThemWriting In The New York Times, A Alvarez Has Called These Stories Extraordinary The Early Stories Have Added Value In That They Illuminate Jean Rhys S Development As A Writer Those Written Later, When Her Art Was Mature, Are On The Level Of Her Novels And Demonstrate That She Is One Of The Most Distinguished Writers Of Our Time, The Best Living English Novelist, Again To Quote AlvarezThe Title Of This Collection Comes From The Opinion Which Many Of Jean Rhys S Characters Share, That Respectable People Are As Alarming As Tigers, But Tigers Are Better Looking, Aren T They It Also Reflects The Astringent Humor In Her Work An Explanation That However Sad Or Even Sordid Her Subject, She Is Never Depressing From The Book Jacket No Jean Rhys fan would want to let this priceless opportunity pass.Included is her fateful, first ever published collection Stories from the Left Bank , a glimpse of the legend in the making, as a young aspiring novice writer even then she had the intuitive brilliance that made her adored by her select, intimate following That her lover Ford Maddox Ford originally published these was clearly no pillow favour he genuinely saw a rare, unique voice that would echo down through the ages after he gave her that start.In these earliest of her efforts, which brought her by chance into the arms of her future mentor and lover and kicked off her literary career, we see into the Paris of the 1920s, with its cobblestoned roads, quaint streetlights, underground clubs, bars and restaurants and the English and American arts circles inhabiting this time and place alongside the city s gritty, colourful native characters The modern stories, written in her maturing years, are equally fascinating albeit for different reasons, her voice having gained greater distinction, her take on life the same as ever and her heels dug relentlessly into her own deeply personal literary ground.Breathtaking work by one of our most underrated English language greats, a writer decades ahead of her time who yanks at your heartstrings and screams into your ear with a polite, understated whisper.Like every one of her books, I ached to keep reading and mourned pathetically after finishing it So much so that I returned to it three times and it still sits in my cupboard awaiting its next round someday. SHort Story Read Tea with an artist.