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We are ushered into a feminine world on page 1 of David Plante’s DIFFICULT WOMEN (New York Review Books, $16.95), when the author meets Jean Rhys in a South Kensington hotel lounge decorated all in pink — pink paper on the walls, pink roses on the carpet. Rhys, who became a literary grande dame after the late-in-life success of her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, sits decomposing in a pink hat on a red sofa under a pink lampshade. “I’m dying,” she says, and asks Plante to run out for a bottle of sweet vermouth. By the end of the afternoon, they are both beyond blotto, and Plante has rescued Rhys out of the toilet into which she fell after he neglected to put the seat down.

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