I Used to Live Here Once

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What to expect

‘Brilliantly written, compulsively readable and insightful’ Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls

‘A first-class life and a rollicking read … Close to a masterpiece’ Sunday Times

An intimate, revealing and profoundly moving biography of Jean Rhys, acclaimed author of Wide Sargasso Sea.

An obsessive and troubled genius, Jean Rhys is one of the most compelling and unnerving writers of the twentieth century. Memories of a conflicted Caribbean childhood haunt the four fictions that Rhys wrote during her extraordinary years as an exile in 1920s Paris and later in England. Rhys’s experiences of heartbreak, poverty, notoriety, breakdowns and even imprisonment all became grist for her writing, forming an iconic ‘Rhys woman’ whose personality – vulnerable, witty, watchful and angry – was often mistaken, and still is, for a self-portrait.

Many details of Rhys’s life emerge from her memoir, Smile Please and the stories she wrote throughout her long and challenging career. But it’s a shock to discover that no biographer – until now – has researched the crucial seventeen years that Rhys spent living on the remote Caribbean island of Dominica; the island which haunted Rhys’s mind and her work for the rest of her life.

Luminous and penetrating, Seymour’s biography reveals a proud and fiercely independent artist, one who experienced tragedy and extreme poverty, alcohol and drug dependency, romantic and sexual turmoil – and yet was never a victim. I Used to Live Here Once enables one of our most excitingly intuitive biographers to uncover the hidden truth about a fascinatingly elusive woman. The figure who emerges for Seymour is powerful, cultured, self-mocking, self-absorbed, unpredictable and often darkly funny. Persuasive, surprising and compassionate, this unforgettable biography brings Jean Rhys to life as never before.

Critics Review

  • ‘This is a first-class life and a rollicking read. Seymour skilfully interweaves the autographical stories and novels with the people and fortunes in Rhys’s crazily adventurous life. She’s warmly sympathetic to the young ingénue of 17, and only slightly less so to the old bat of 87. She’s also the only Rhys biographer who travelled to Dominica to see what it was about the island — its colours, smells, conflicted history and voodoo sorcery — that haunted Rhys all her days but fired her imagination. The result is close to a masterpiece’
    John Walsh, Sunday Times

    ‘Her intimate and insightful biography … certainly reads like a novel. [Seymour] is a bewitching writer … gives us Rhys in all her glory’
    Laura Freeman, The Times

    ‘The superb achievement of Miranda Seymour’s painstaking and compassionate new biography is to dispel forever the idea that Rhys was simply a naïve chronicler of her own experiences … in terms of sheer technique, she was a virtuoso’
    Spectator

    ‘Brilliantly written, compulsively readable and insightful, Miranda Seymour’s biography does full justice to a remarkable and complex life’
    Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls

    ‘A very impressive piece of work. A long and tangled life most authoritatively pieced together. I was completely absorbed’
    Michael Frayn, author of Noises Off

    ‘It’s a high-wire act to hold so witty and eloquent a balance between this writer’s recklessness and diligence. The honesty too is appealing, the acknowledgement of dark places no one can fully visit’
    Lyndall Gordon, author of Outsiders

    ‘Illuminating and brilliant’
    Diana Melly, author of Take a Girl Like Me

    ‘Absolute gold. A beautiful and fascinating in-depth study of how a writer works, how books emerge from a life, from messy emotions, a Caribbean island and a uniquely sensitive imagination’
    Ruth Padel, author of Daughters of The Labyrinth

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