Context: Finished this under a holly tree, by a pond at a friend’s house in Hertford, UK.
This novel is scarcely 200 pages long. Yet Woolf manages to load every sentence (dare I say every word?) with such imagery that you feel like your reading something weightier than Lord of the Rings.
I’ve read The Voyage Out and Orlando, but they come nowhere near to what Woolf achieved in To the Lighthouse. It’s one of those books where, from the first page, you feel like you are at a special point in literature and watching, not a novel unfold, but a whole new style.
That’s not to say that I enjoyed all of it. I found some of it, not surprisingly, obscure, the multi-layered imagery simply too burdensome to delve into. I also thought that it was a bit too caught up with the symbology of everything. It was a frightening glimpse into the mind of someone who cannot simply chill out.
Woolf, as is well-known, was a mixed up woman. She suffered at least two mental breakdowns and ended her own life. Clearly, she was troubled and this comes through in her writing. It’s written at such a pace of thought that, despite its brevity, you feel like you’re wading through the equivalent of an omnibus edition of The Glass Bead Game, The Magic Mountain and War and Peace all put together. You have to keep coming up for air.
But Woolf was able to reflect on life so, so intensely that she creates the minds of her characters in rich detail. You feel as if you are moving from one mind to another. There’s hardly any dialogue and yet so much is said. This is genius.
My favourite section is the brief middle part which sees the decay and restoration of the house. Woolf brings inanimate objects to life so that the house becomes a character in its own right with the humans incidental to this. This creates the image that although life and death and war are waged in some far off place rendered in square brackets, the real world is taking place right here on the Hebridean island. It’s a reverse of the reality most of us would acknowledge.
I could go on and that’s more demonstration of its greatness: the discussion of book would take far, far longer than simply reading it. If you haven’t read it, do so and join the discussion.
“Yes, of course, if it’s fine to-morrow,” said Mrs Ramsay.
Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb