To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is another book that had me questioning the editors’ choices for Modern Library’s list, but the novel was also included in TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923-2005, so I guess it must be me and my annoying preference for a linear plot line. Once I wrestled past that issue and let it go (see what I did there, Frozen fans?) it was easier for me to settle in and enjoy the language – to a certain extent.
The novel tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay and their eight children, who are spending time at their summer home on the Isle of Skye. The novel opens with Mrs. Ramsay talking with her son James about visiting the lighthouse, which Mr. Ramsey opposed due to the weather forecast. This plan and conversation are returned to throughout the novel. They are joined at the summerhouse by a number of friends and colleagues, with an artist and poet among the group. The first section of the book “The Window” offers the thoughts and perspectives of the various characters; the second section “Time Passes” returns to this same space 10 years later; the final section “The Lighthouse” delves into a few of the characters’ relationships more fully.
Throughout the novel, the focus is on introspection and philosophical observation, versus plot and dialogue. While there are some basic plot points, they are treated as kind of a dot on the timeline of the Ramsay family, and some of the most seemingly important events are written as parenthetical asides.
That being said, I realized when I went back through my notes and highlights on the Kindle that I did mark quite a few interesting and/or beautiful passages. I’m including a few here, with the Kindle location marker:
“When she looked in the glass and saw her hair gray, her cheeks sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better…” (loc 99)
“She often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotion.” (loc 455)
“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad. “ (loc 673) This is my favorite – I will probably start using it often. “So Heather, how was the movie?” “I could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad.” Love it.
“The words seemed to be dropped into a well, where, if the waters were clear, they were also so extraordinarily distorting…” (loc 761)
“She seemed afraid of nothing – except bulls. At the mere sight of a bull in a field she would throw up her arms and fly screaming, which was the very thing to enrage a bull of course.” (loc 1030)
“Every time he approached – he was walking up and down the terrace – ruin approached, chaos approached.” (loc 1994)
“Then he would look up benevolently as always, from his smoky vague green eyes” (2401) I love a good eye description.
This novel does get a point for using the word “lugubrious”, which jumps off the page for me whenever I see it after being introduced to the word during GRE exam prep (it was not on the exam).
I’m sorry Virginia Woolf fans – I feel like I should like it more, but it’s getting an
Onwards we go – I just finished #18 – Slaughterhouse Five, so reviews to come soon about the two novels between these!