Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To the Lighthouse

Have I mentioned before that I lovelovelove Virginia Woolf? Because I really do. There is something about her writing style and my sensibility that clicks perfectly. So it should be no surprise that I am completely gaga over To the Lighthouse (1927).

In this book, as in many Virginia Woolf books, not that much actually happens. The book is divided into three sections. The first, "The Window," is the longest of the three and describes a day at the vacation home of the Ramsay's. Mr. Ramsay, a professor of something (metaphysics perhaps?) and his wife have eight children and a crowd of weekend guests with them in their vacation home that overlooks a bay with a lighthouse in the distance. Much discussion is devoted to whether or not a group of them will be able to sail to the lighthouse the next day. In the second, very brief and much more abstract section, "Time Passes," time... passes. And in the third section, "The Lighthouse," we return to a single day at the vacation home, ten years after "The Window," and finally visit the lighthouse.

So why would I like this book?

Woolf uses a stream-of-consciousness style of writing in which dialogue and internal thoughts are interspersed and the point of view travels seamlessly from character to character. With this the reader gets a more intense and real-feeling picture of the lives of the characters and their relationships with one another. We see what Mrs. Ramsay thinks of herself, and what everyone else thinks of her, and back and forth between all the characters as they interact with one another in everyday sorts of ways. We feel along with the characters as their happy feelings are shattered by an tossed off comment or action, and later their sense of isolation and disconnection is evaporated by a glance or a phrase. Much like real life, important things aren't always happening, and the things that seem important to the characters go unnoticed by everyone else.

Reading this shortly after As I Lay Dying brought up all sorts of parallels between the writing styles of Faulkner and Woolf. They were contemporaries (To the Lighthouse came out a few years before As I Lay Dying) and I wonder if they ever read one another. These books in particular both use a changing point of view (between family members and neighbors/houseguests) and stream-of-consciousness style to explore the relationships of a family that is changed by a death. Although Woolf's novel (while sometimes very bleak) is ultimately much more hopeful than Faulkner's. I'll definitely have to think on that some more...

[I was going to put a scan of my copy of To the Lighthouse up to illustrate this post, since I love the design, but it looked so gross and dirty when I scanned it. It really doesn't look that disgusting in person, but let this be a lesson to those who design book covers: white probably isn't a good idea.]

[And if the idea of "books" with "covers" totally disgusts you anyway, then knock yourself out and read the entire text of To the Lighthouse here.]

[Update: Reading this post over I feel like I make the book sound kind of boring and unapproachable. But really, I found reading it to be energizing, exciting, and relaxing all at once. And I know I'm a fast reader, but this really did read quickly. Don't be frightened away!]

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