In many ways, Wide Sargasso Sea and Shame are trying to accomplish the same things. Both are trying to give voice to previously silenced histories, and both narrators are doing so from the point of view of someone other than themselves. (Rushdie as a female narrator… but yes I admit I am assuming Rhys doesn’t have the same experiences of attic life as Bertha …although with my dating history who am I to judge?) Yet both authors try radically different ways of doing this through their writing; whilst one evades and slips, the other foreshadows and provides concrete evidence and justification. One tries to depict the personal through the collective, through multiple memories, whilst the other concentrates on individual interpretations. Which works for you? For me, to take someone else’s trauma, or someone else’s story and try to recreate it is fraught with potential disasters…what if you don’t do it properly? What if you cause more damage by misunderstanding the situation? What if you perpetuate the myths and problems that caused the issues in the first place? And of course there’s the age old charge of daring to turn someone else’s voice into a commercial product to be consumed by the same people who have commoditized and used them in the past….
But then again, can we really say that only certain people have the right to tell certain stories, and what does an “authentic” story even mean? Rushdie shows us that the process of telling stories, of sharing them and them becoming common currency, is a way of bringing people together.
“stories were the glue that held the clan together, binding the generations in webs of whispered secrets…in the sanctification of her tale lay initiation, kinship, blood.”
Perhaps then these books can be viewed, rather than being the definitive alternative voice, as the opening of a conversation, one in which we can all become incorporated. We can critique and adjust them, as we become part of the conversation ourselves. After all, isn’t that the point of what we do every day? There’s no such thing as a one way conversation after all. They always rely on someone writing back.