B's Reviews > To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
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Apr 15, 15

bookshelves: random-house-100, time-s-100, stunning-prose
Read from March 18 to April 15, 2015

A weaving, meandering narrative about the Ramsay family and friends, as seen on two separate days, many years apart from one another. It's a book where nothing really happens and, shockingly, I'm okay with this.

Don't read Woolf for the plot, climax, conclusion formula of literature. Read her for the beautiful way she manipulates word; for the mastering of the English language.

"To the Lighthouse" is split into three parts:

Part I
The Ramsay's and co. are young. Some characters fret about marriage and the future, while others romp by the shore and others more worry about the choices they have made, and how it will reflect upon them when they are dead and gone. A jumping, stream-of-consciousness narration, where actual dialogue is few and far between. Instead, Woolf focuses on the innermost thoughts, desires, and fears of her characters. One could be peering into the mind of Mrs. Ramsay, only to have Minta walk by and, almost jarringly, we peer into Minta's head until she bumps into Mr. Banks and immediately hear his thoughts.
It's as though you are a mosquito on the grounds, buzzing from one person to the other, getting close to their ear, and listening to the echoes of their minds.
In short, it's incredible.

Part II
Takes place during the night. As everyone snuffs out their lights and prepares themselves for sleep, the reader is tucked into a time machine and prepares to jolt into the future. Though Mrs. Ramsay is checking on her youngest children before bed, the reader is clued into her fate. Children who will grow up and die in the war are painted as young boy and KIA solider in the same breath. The maid tidies up from the day, ruminating on the day's activities, and the events which will occur far off into the future. It's a psychedelic literary experience (don't think that's a thing? think again) to exist both in the present and the distant future of the characters, but Woolf is a natural and pulls it off with ease.

Part III
We are officially in the future, following the surviving characters as some make their way to the lighthouse, and others stay on the grounds, thinking over their lives and losses.

If the plot isn't enough to suck you in, I'd like you to hear from Woolf herself. Her insights into the human condition are poignant and heartbreaking and can you tell I'm in love?

"...how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach."

"The words seemed to be dropped into a well, where, if the waters were clear, they were also so extraordinarily distorting that, even as they descended, one saw them twisting about to make Heaven knows what pattern on the floor of the child’s mind."

"For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of — to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others."

"If she had said half what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now."

"What does one live for? Why, one asked oneself, does one take all these pains for the human race to go on? Is it so very desirable? Are we attractive as a species? Not so very, he thought..."

"...thinking again of Mrs. Ramsay on the beach; the cask bobbing up and down; and the pages flying. Why, after all these years had that survived, ringed round, lit up, visible to the last detail, with all before it blank and all after it blank, for miles and miles?"


Excuse me, I have to go swoon now
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Reading Progress

03/18 marked as: currently-reading
04/15 marked as: read

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