Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review - To the Lighthouse

I've always heard of Virginia Woolf, but never read anything by her. So when someone in my book club suggested we read To the Lighthouse, I was very excited. Now I must warn you, Woolf is not proper bedtime reading, for those of you who only read before going to sleep. I definitely got more out of the book when I was able to sit down for at least a half hour, and concentrate on the writing.

Woolf’s mix of very long sentences, short bursts of color, and multiple characters talking at the same time was a thrill to read. Her "stream of consciousness" writing is considered to be among the first of its kind. Our group was trying to think of another woman who writes in this style. Can you think of one?

My copy of the book (and there are many) has an introduction by Mark Hussey, where you can find more about Woolf and her influences. I learned a lot about her in my book club. There’s loads of commentary out there, if you’re serious about your literature.

Some things I learned: the models of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay were Woolf’s own parents. And even though her sister Vanessa was an artist, Lily (the artist in the book) is generally considered to be modeled after the author. Not only are the characters symbolic, but many inanimate objects in the story hold deeper meanings.

Virginia Woolf writes in her own diary (28 November 1928) about being obsessed with both her parents:

“... I used to think of him [her father] and mother daily; but writing the Lighthouse laid them in my mind. And now he comes back sometimes, but differently. (I believe this to be true; that I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; and writing of them was a necessary act)...”
- [from ]

Not only are the characters symbolic, but many inanimate objects in the story hold deeper meanings. One of my favorite parts of the book was when everyone in the house sat down to dinner. I think there were about 20 people, family and friends. Woolf starts describing what everyone is thinking: Mrs. Ramsay picking out where her guests should sit, Mr. Bankes getting impatient with the long meal, and Charles Tansley, just wanting to be alone in his room, “among his books.“ Lily, of course, was daydreaming about her painting,

“She remembered, all of a sudden as if she had found a treasure, that she had her work. In a flash she saw her picture, and thought, Yes, I shall put the tree further in the middle, then I shall avoid that awkward space. That’s what I shall do. That’s what has been puzzling me. She took up the salt cellar and put it down again on a flower in pattern in the table-cloth, so as to remind herself to move the tree.” by derekmccrea

You’ll find little treats like that throughout the whole book. And what levels is the book written in? Thematically, Hussey thinks it’s death and war. Yes, I can see that. The Macro Textual Level: the book is written in three parts; two lengthy sections in the beginning and end (lastly a few days), with a short section in the middle (I think 10 years,) called “Time Passes.” And the Micro Textual Level: you have to love her descriptive sentences.

But I don’t want to say too much, for those of you who want to run out and get the book. I highly recommend going to a used book store or an online book exchange. You’re certain to find a copy. Have fun with it, we sure did.


NICO Designs said...

Such a fascinating writer. Thank you for sharing this one with us.

Flo said...

I would love to have heard what your book group had to say about her and the book. I found To The Lighthouse easier to get into but also got more out of it knowing that a lot of the inspiration for it came from her own life and childhood. She is a wonderful writer if you can get into her books


Splendid Little Stars said...

You may like the book The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which pays homage to Woolf--basically 3 interwoven novellas with connections to Woolf & her writings. Here is the link to some reviews on Amazon:
(The Hours was a working title that Woolf gave to Mrs. Dalloway.)

Rose Works Jewelry said...

Sounds interesting!

maryeb said...

Another book to add to my list of must reads.

Lenox Knits said...

What a great review. I read it many moons ago but I think I will have to pick it up again. Stop by the blog and get a well deserved award:

MagicMarkingsArt said...

Hmmm...never read this book, but as a fellow book lover, and member of a couples book club, will put this on my list.
We just finished reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" which I blogged about. Fabulous book!
Cheers to cozy sofa's and great books

BeadedTail said...

Wonderful review! I'm still in the "easy to read before bed" books but I put this one on my list of books that I most certainly want to read some day!

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