“No, but I wish to go under; to visit the profound depths; once in a while to exercise my prerogative not always to act, but to explore; to hear vague, ancestral sounds of boughs creaking, of mammoths, to indulge impossible desires to embrace the whole world with the arms of understanding, impossible to those who act.” – Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Virginia Woolf never ceases to amaze me. If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would actually enjoy books written in the stream-of-consciousness style, I would probably have laughed. I was definitely not a fan of this writing style and initially felt that it was one of the most difficult writing styles to follow; it actually infuriated me at times. However, I am now a convert and I see the beauty of that style. And Virginia Woolf is probably the most adept and poetic writer of this sort of writing.
There’s no easy way for me to summarize this book. It follows the lives of a group of friends; Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, Louis and Percival, from childhood through adulthood. We hear, in turn, the internal monologues of each of these characters and they help piece the story together, as well as inform us of the characters’ personalities.
Out of all the characters, I liked Bernard the most. I found him to be truly perceptive and sensitive to things around him, his relationship with others, and his own feelings. He sees the importance of language and is obsessed with words:
“Words and words and words, how they gallop- how they lash their long manes and tails, but for some fault in me I cannot give myself to their backs; I cannot fly with them.”
Woolf’s writing is truly brilliant, lyrical and poetic. It is also very sad, especially the philosophical musings written when the group members are older, the musings of people who are grappling with different desires in life and who are wondering whether they are happy with their lives, especially when they encounter death.
I liked the descriptions of nature, waves in particular. They were many such references throughout the book, it was almost as if the whole story was saturated with water, giving it a bleak atmosphere:
“But wait- I sat all night waiting- an impulse again runs through us; we rise, we toss back a mane of white spray; we pound on the shore; we are not to be confined.”
I must admit, I wasn’t always 100% sure who was speaking but somehow I never lost track of the story. I’m sure that with a second reading, things will become clearer and I’ll be able to get more out of it.