pearl's Reviews > The Waves

The Waves by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Nov 30, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-fiction, experimental, 2012, dreamlike, favorites, modernism, friendship, poetry, queer

Let's be real. The Waves is a pain in the ass to talk about. There are reviews here and around that speak cogently to its merits, but as for me, I waffle:

"So, you see, it's this experimental, stream-of-consciousness multinarrative about--well, not really about--upper crust white people. Haha. The writing is great, though. The imagery and characterizations are fantastic, like nothing else. But there's no plot. Look, it doesn't matter, does it? It's in the headspace! Just let it wash over you! Get it? Waves, ha... I guess you'll like it if you like poetry?"

And so on for two or so years, whenever I first read it. But I want to talk about The Waves again. For my second reading, I went slowly, revisited, and made notes. And when I finished the last twenty pages on an airplane, I felt, appallingly, a welling-up of emotion for a passage that previously meant shite to me. Have I become so sentimental over the last couple of years? Was I just not paying attention back then? What even means Percival? Answers: Possibly yes, yes, and who knows!

What I'm really saying is that the characters grew on me. Jinny, for her joy and for being "honest, like an animal" (so good, all her moments delight!). Neville because I have known people like him and have felt like him about things and people and order more than I care to admit (he is one of my favorites still). Even, ugh, Louis--I know what it means to be separate because of the world and also yourself, and the outrage and humiliation when you desire to be like (and pitied and loved by) the things you hate/revere. Rhoda is clearer to me; the violence and codedness of her experiences were cut off from me at first, but now I see how she is like young women I have known, very much so, and that's all I will say about that. Susan. I did not like her the first time around! She bored me, she didn't feature prominently in the text, etc., but then there was the mystery of her (or the non-mystery?), the immense "this-is-what-I-am" personality, quiet, proud, and unforgiving, hardworking but never laboring, and straightforward but complex. I finally understood what it was, maybe, that Percival loved about Susan.

And Bernard! Yes! So much of what I enjoyed this time was Bernard's (he does make up the bulk of the narrative haha). I understand what he means by multitudes, how one is defined and made real by others. How life seems to need to be couched in language which is never enough, because words are ridiculous, too limiting or neat. How the barriers to our understandings of each other feel insurmountable, are perhaps fully un-crossable but only as terrible as we let them be.

The Waves is not easy. For so slim a number, it is thick, overcrowded, and the language drifts in suffocating ways. Some parts are actually pretty boring. But this book also represents everything that I love about Woolf and modernism--hell, just everything I love. It considers the position that human communication is a lark, that your mind and your life are unknowable to me because we are different people, but also maybe that we are not so different after all, and it treats this with vulnerability rather than deconstruction or, worse, irony.

The Waves chews the cud slowly. It is unafraid to be busy or futile, emotional, contradictory, and messy.

It is honest and that is why I love it.

The End
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 30, 2010 – Shelved
November 30, 2010 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
November 30, 2010 – Shelved as: experimental
April 27, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
July 14, 2013 – Shelved as: dreamlike
March 2, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites
March 2, 2014 – Shelved as: modernism
December 16, 2014 – Shelved as: friendship
December 16, 2014 – Shelved as: poetry
December 16, 2014 – Shelved as: queer

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