Picks and Pans Review: Smile Please

updated 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jean Rhys

The New York Times once proclaimed the author of this unfinished memoir "the best living English novelist." Rhys, who died last year at 88, wrote often about fragile women exploited by cold men. Most of her works were semiautobiographical (the best perhaps being Good Morning, Midnight), but none explains why she seemed so wed to sadness. Smile Please produces a partial answer. Daughter of a Welsh doctor in the West Indies, Rhys recalls looking into a mirror at age 9 in despair. "I hated myself." After moving to England at 16, she did a stint as a chorus girl and eventually became the protégé of novelist Ford Madox Ford, the prototype for one of her contemptible men. Her writing career was stifled by poor sales and World War II, and not until 1958 was she relaunched by a British radio producer. Rhys was driven to write by the notion that one has to "earn death." When she finally did, she left an elegant farewell. (Harper & Row, $10.95)

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