Well, what can you say about such an iconic and rather daunting book? I’ve so enjoyed taking part in #Woolfalong this year and was determined to fit some reads into the last section, Woolfalong Phase 6, in which we are asked to read any or all of “Jacob’s Room”, “The Waves” and “The Years”. So I started this a few days ago and finished it having woken early on Christmas Day with nothing particular to do (we were off to extended family, bearing gifts of Schloer, so got away without too much prep). I hope this review does it justice!
Virginia Woolf – “The Waves”
(4 January 1992)
This examination of six lives from childhood to middle age starts off with short sentences said by each of them, which feels like a clever word game such as the Bloomsbury Set would play, until you realise that it’s their internal monologues at work. Although the “Susan said,” etc. could feel a bit forced, it does make sure you know who’s talking and what they’re likely to be on about, so anchors you in this experimental world.
As the characters progress through life, their memories echo down the years, some fading, some becoming more insistent, and their preoccupations may change on the surface but their essential beings don’t seem to. They reflect on each other and particular episodes – hinging on two gatherings in youth and later years – in a way that seems almost Cubist, from different and sometimes surprising angles. As in Richardson’s “Pilgrimage”, the most important events occur off-stage and are referred to and reacted to rather than seen. I found Bernard, the writer, and his soliloquy that forms the end of the book, quite moving.
The book feels in part like a critique of gender roles, with the options for women in particular pretty limited (lover, wife, eccentric), and Susan in particular seeming to be lost in her role as matriarch, even though she longed and planned for it. To be fair, the men also seem to be set inside their suits and limited by their schooldays, and does Bernard actually ever produce anything apart from his interminable notebooks?
I felt a bit daunted approaching this one, obviously last read as a student, but was pleased I picked up on the echoes of T.S. Eliot that were mentioned in the Introduction to my World’s Classics edition. I did very much enjoy the beautiful evocations of the sun rising, moving and setting above the eternal waves in the interludes, and making my way through the characters’ stories.
I did actually receive a copy of “The Years” (in an omnibus with “Between the Acts”, very pleasingly, as I read that in an e-book edition) for my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa, so might be able to squeeze that in before the end of the year. I’m still working my way through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and have reached the 80s and times I experienced myself, so that book just gets better and better. I’m reading a Reykjavik Murder Mystery for a bit of light relief and you will NOT get my books of the year post until 31 December or 1 January, depending on when I finish my last book of the year! Who knows what gems will leap out at me!
I hope you’re all getting some nice reading time and opened lots of book-shaped parcels yesterday. Including my BookCrossing Secret Santa opened earlier in the month, I have acquired 11 new books, which seems doable and not stressful to the TBR …