Lee's Reviews > The Waves

The Waves by Virginia Woolf
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Jan 03, 2017

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites

Best book ever, I said when I finished before returning to the first non-italicized page to re-read phrases that this time around didn't baffle (as much). A quarter through, as I started saying "wow" aloud at perfectly phrased phrases (that "land on two feet"), it was clear that this is and has always been an obvious canonical MVP. Tried reading it maybe ten years ago sitting in a Jiffy Lube waiting room, got to page 21 (dog-eared it), reading without retention, turning pages but not much else, and so didn't return to it after the oil change. Loved All That Man Is recently and recognized that it shared (or stole) its structure somewhat from this one; they both trace the long curve of life and are about life itself rather than some aspect of it. I'll have to adjust my rating for "All That Man Is" since this is about as good as it gets. Impressionistic, absolutely individuated, unpredictable, supremely insightful, and carefully crafted elevated language (phrases). No reference to Wittgenstein (as they do nowadays, creating an easy impression of intelligence). This is the real deal: original insight into the rhythms and texture of life. Essential: life and language reduced to their essence, which elevates everything. Ordinarily I'd rail against Disembodied Proper Noun Syndrome but disembodiment is part of the point; it emphasizes the voices, like a chorus of angels intoning perfectly weighted incantations to evoke what had been their corresponding bodies' lives. An exaggeratedly written text, self-consciously a compilation of phrases, the author's presence always benignly hovering over the words, and yet there's Bernard, Neville, Percival, Jinny, Rhoda, Susan, all of them I know now, all of them I see. Interesting to imagine what a contemporary version of this would be like, with childhood imaginations branded by Disney and Pixar (Lego Ninjas seem to occupy my daughter's imagination these days, usurping Paw Patrol, which vanquished Transformers) and young adult consciousnesses infiltrated by Instagram activity. But this, although ~85 years old at this point, is timeless, since it's abstracted; the grains in the wood of the door, the path through the sand, the red carnation, the textures, the rhythms, and the curve of time, the "sex scene" on page 103, and of course the bands of onrushing waves are timeless. Most semi-colons ever in a novel maybe? Ideal example of a novel that teaches you how to read it. "Immeasurably receptive, holding everything, trembling with fulness, yet clear, contained . . ." Will need to re-read multiple times of course. And now might re-read "The Sound and the Fury," which seems like it was influenced by this too.
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Reading Progress

December 30, 2016 – Started Reading
December 30, 2016 – Shelved
December 31, 2016 –
page 104
35.02% "Virginia Woolf is an amazing writer: "Wine has a drastic, an astringent taste." Love the triple repetition of "ast""
January 3, 2017 – Shelved as: favorites
January 3, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Love this tribute, Lee - though I can't see the common ground you found between Woolf's and Szalay's books.


message 2: by Sam (new)

Sam have had this on the shelf for years - this review is inspiration to pick it up today


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan It's funny, but in fact *The Sound and the Fury* predates *The Waves*; it came out in '29, *The Waves* in '31.


message 4: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Thanks, Fionnuala, and happy new year! The true protagonist in each is time and as such they cover the full curve of lives, focusing on small, accentuated moments of experience that suggest "this is life." Szalay's book is the earthly contemporary story-collection version; Woolf's is the celestial prose poem.


message 5: by Lee (last edited Jan 03, 2017 07:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Sam: I literally had it on my shelf for 10+ years with all those other white-spined Woolf novels I read long ago. Was scared of it, I think, but after the first section, it begins to cohere and there's nothing to fear!


message 6: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Jonathan: Awesome, thanks -- Ulysses came out in '22, so maybe they're both influenced by Joyce, although I know Woolf was no fan of Ulysses.


message 7: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Yeah, the influence thing is really interesting here. It's funny how writers of shared bents, or writers with similar preoccupations of technique, have this way of anticipating each other's next moves, regardless of whether they're actually reading each other.


message 8: by Fionnuala (last edited Jan 04, 2017 05:10AM) (new) - added it

Fionnuala Lee wrote: "..Szalay's book is the earthly contemporary story-collection version; Woolf's is the celestial prose poem."

When you put it like that, I can accept the comparison better...
And Happy 2017 to you too.


Erik I love your review & enthusiasm for The Waves. It is on another level, I'm in awe of this book.


message 10: by Jim (new)

Jim I haven't read this since I was an undergrad. Remember preferring Mrs. Dalloway for the Septimus Warren Smith sections, which definitely influenced Faulkner. Will have to return.


message 11: by Mia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mia Exactly. And thank you. I should like a fiery dress, a yellow dress, a fulvous dress...


message 12: by Kenny (new) - added it

Kenny Brilliant review


message 13: by Caterina (new) - added it

Caterina “Best book ever” -- Wow! - A high recommendation coming from you and a great review, thank you! Has been on my “most want to read” list for a while and now confirmed. Maybe this summer as I may be co-curating an art exhibition related to water, waves and women, how perfect would it be to have this in mind, informing the whole thing...


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