To the Lighthouse is a book about so many things, perhaps about everything. Structurally it is a book about tiEasily the best book I've read in years.
To the Lighthouse is a book about so many things, perhaps about everything. Structurally it is a book about time and how time fills our lives. How tense or dull or depressing minutes can pass by interminably slowly while in hindsight years of life seem to have flown by without us realizing it. To illustrate this point, the first hundred or so pages of this novel cover approximately two minutes of real time. A woman is painting a picture, a mother is reading a fairy tale to her young son, an anxious husband is pacing to and fro on a porch. Nothing of any obvious importance much happens to the visible eye, but as the narrative seamlessly slips in and out of the minds of these characters and others, Woolf reveals deep and tangled layers of devastating insight into these fully-formed lives, written in pitch-perfectly lyrical language. We discover a man's insecurities about his purpose in a world he suspects may be ultimately meaningless. We witness a woman's complex love for her husband, which is centered around and ironically strengthened by pretending to a deeper love and greater dependency than truly exists. We experience a woman's struggle to create despite her own self-destructive tendencies. We understand how a young man's haughty pretentiousness can stem from his own fear of worthlessness. And so on and so on. When Part I ends nearly two hundred pages into the book, having only witnessed a couple of hours in a rather unremarkable evening, we feel as though the entirety of modern human experience has been touched upon.
And then Part II begins, flying through ten years in a mere twenty pages, rattling off the deaths of main characters as if they were no more important than the growth of mold in an unoccupied house. In this profound book one senses both the meaningful despair of intelligent life--the fleeting moments of intense anger, depression, love, joy--and the cold, unfeeling passing of eons. As one character remarks, the stone one kicks in a garden will undoubtedly outlive the memory of Shakespeare.
Yet Woolf does not abandon all meaning into the nihilistic vastness of the universe. By allowing these characters to confide in us their innermost secrets, the book validates despite all outward logic the importance of human endeavor. ...more