To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

February 12, 2010 at 9:17 am 1 comment

Since summer I’ve been re-reading books by some of my favourite authors, including Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Patrick Lane, Sharon Butala, Isabel Huggan, Jan Zwicky and Marilynne Robinson. Now I’ve come to one of the best yet: Virginia Woolf.

I read Virginia Woolf’s books when I studied English in university, and To The Lighthouse is the one I would recommend most. It’s about the fleeting moments of happiness that spring up in our lives, experiences that may last only for a short time but linger on as memories that shape our lives and perspectives for much longer. In the case of this book, that moment is a dinner party where the main character is surrounded by family and friends. Appropriate for readers of food blogs I’d say!

Although To the Lighthouse is a beautiful and captivating book, I wouldn’t say it’s easy to read. Virginia Woolf is famous for writing in the “stream of consciousness” style, which means you jump inside a character’s head and follow along with everything in her world as it happens. Images wash over you at the same time as thoughts at the same time as dialogue between characters. Like normal life. We’re not always used to reading like that, but we are used to living like that. The book is more about the thoughts and observations of its characters than it is about plot, and it’s this style of writing and the insight into character and human psychology it brings that makes Virginia Woolf such an important author.

It’s often the case that “important” books often become dated and are worth reading only for their significance to a certain time and place or to understand the role a particular book or author had in shaping literature’s long history. This is not one of those books. It goes beyond being a great book to being a true work of art. It is innovative, beautiful, and utterly refreshing – it feels new and remarkable even though it was published in 1927.

Linger over it slowly and carefully and you may find as I did that reading the book provides exactly the type of ephemeral experience it sets out to describe. I made my way through the middle section, called “Time Passes,” sitting on our deck on a rare day this winter when the sun was shining and it was warm enough to be outdoors with just a sweater, a mug of tea and a sleeping dog. It was blissful and serene, all the more so through the power of this beautiful book. You will remember reading it: the details of where you were, how the light was shining that day, if the air was cool and what changed in your life because of it.


Entry filed under: Life, Reading. Tags: , , , , .

Remember tulips? Vegetable lasagna

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Denise @ Creative Kitchen  |  March 9, 2010 at 7:31 am

    what a lovely book review!! makes me want to pick it up right now. Hope you’ll do more of these in the future. Thanks for sharing!

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