Friday, October 15, 2010

To the Lighthouse

Book #3: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century by many critics so I feel like a bit of an idiot for not liking it more. Woolf is not one of my favorite feminist novelists but I find myself quoting her all the time. Her suicide note, which I know I have noted on here before, always breaks my heart. 

"I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V"

I always read her work with this quote in mind and the awareness that I am reading someone who lived for her work and was a very conflicted individual. She has iconic lines such as "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." or "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." It is hard not to want to love her work but I always struggle with her books. 

Part I of the novel draws you into the lives of the Ramsey's and their friends, particularly focusing on Mrs. Ramsey. You follow their lives for one afternoon and by the end you feel very, very close to some of the characters. But in Part II, without any warning, Mrs. Ramsey is killed off and the home that you spent the last 80 pages in has fallen into despair. I love how Woolf did this. It immediately had the effect of making me realize how brief and trivial life is. (Though I'm not sure this was Woolf's intention.) The tables she dusted, the home that she took such meticulous care of is gone. The woman that so many of the characters were mesmerized or tortured by is dead. 

Read If: You like really clever social commentaries. I love the passages in the book where Woolf has us listen in on the internal dialogue of several of the characters during dinner. It is so well done and probably not that far off from what happens at diner parties, even now. 

Don't Read If: You like stories that move along and don't have too much philosophical introspection. Although I read a lot, I am not the best reader. I often don't focus enough, so I depend on the author doing some of the work for me. For this book, I had to read the sparknotes after to understand what I was supposed to take away from it. 

Overall, I can easily see why this book received the acclaim that it did but it was just not for me. 

Rating: 6/10

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