Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Bertha is the madwoman locked in the attic by her husband Rochester, the simmering Englishman whose children Jane has been hired to tutor. In Bronte's novel we learn little about Bertha other than that she's a monster who must be bound with rope, a white woman from the Caribbean whom Rochester was long ago pressured into marrying for her money. But Rhys, who grew up in the French Caribbean colony of Dominica, presses on the silences in Bronte to give Bertha her own story. Caliban does not become Ariel here, but Rhys turns a menacing cipher into a grieving, plausible young woman, and one whose story says whole worlds about global mixtures, about the misunderstandings between the colonized, the colonizers and the people who can't easily say which they are.—R.L.