Virginia Woolf – The Waves

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(most of this was originally written on July 16th, but shelved for a later date).
I didn’t start Orlando, because I wanted to focus on Woolf’s ‘Stream of Conscious’ approach and I have a thing about water imagery at the moment.  I think it helps to nail the characters down to the people you know, because if you haven’t got a firm grasp of each character (there isn’t any character profile descriptions, therefore no sense of hair colour or physique), the plot again slides all over the place. The narrative voices are many and will change from paragraph to paragraph.  Bernard is a sanguine, well-placed, good all rounder; Jinny is a debutante-esque woman who increasingly gets paranoid about her age; Louis is conscious that he doesn’t fit in, but ends up as the most successful at his job;  Rhoda is riddled with self doubt, Susan wishes she was elsewhere and Neville is in love with Percival, who is the only friend who has not got a speaking part, but is represented by everyone’s thoughts and (a bit like a Star Trek red shirt) is doomed to die midway through the novel.  This is almost the mirror image of the mother figure dying in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse linked to Woolf’s own mother’s early departure and it is not wholly unnatural to conclude that the ‘Percival’ character in The Waves is a depiction of the demise of Woolf’s brother, Thoby.  The other characters are based on VW’s close-knit circle i.e. Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell et al.
It is beautifully written, but not the easiest of reads and I feel that it is better if one attempts to read it as high literary art, rather than a rollicking good read.  It is crammed with similes and metaphors, some that are beautifully crafted; others that sometimes are there to mystify the reader, who quite often find themselves bogged down in unraveling  the characters’ interior monologues.  It is multi-layered and worthy of an in depth second read, therefore not a book to read while you have a spare half hour between retail shifts (like yours truly).  It has made me realise that the last thing that I want to do for my sanity’s sake, is do an MA for the fun of it.  I am happy to fillet a literary gnat, but I would prefer to find other worthwhile hobbies, like learn Esperanto, or take up the flugelhorn.

I finished this book over two weeks ago and have since read Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. I did a major dissertation on some of her other work; The Magic ToyshopNights at the Circus and Wise Children.  I don’t think this is a patch on any of them. Some of it was bordering on the Tarantino-esque, most of it was dreadful literary flim flam of which now can be found on the the front of the most salacious of women’s magazines.  I think that if she had rewritten it, it could have been another feminist great, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  It might have been a critique of all that is wrong with the polarising aspects of the matriarchy/patriarchy in our modern culture, but a lot of this felt like it was gratuitous and not as beautifully nuanced as Nights at the Circus.  Basically, I was disappointed because I know she can do much better.

I won’t be reading her appraisal of Marquis de Sade work in her non-fiction book, The Saedian Women any time yet, because psychologically, I am not up to it.  It would be as dangerous as recommending Sylvia Plath to teenage emo girls.

Basically bypass that for now.

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