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The WavesThe Waves by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers. Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so that when one matter is despatched—love for instance—we go on, in an orderly manner, to the next. ”

This was such a hard book to get into that it’s not even funny! I mean, I _KNOW_ what was going on, I know what Woolf was aiming for in the structural planning of the book, and I absolutely adore how well she kept up her water imagery. I am overwhelmed by her talent, but there is a fact that cannot be avoided; her novels are either going to be pure bliss, or absolute hell. This, to me, was hell. This disjointed narrative follows the lives of six characters whose voices intertwine to tell the story of the passing of time, how people grow from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It is intensely nostalgic and is designed to mimic how the passing of what seems like an age, is nothing in relation to the world around us. This is perfectly symbolised by a side-narrative featuring the waves on a beach which begins each section of the novel. The end result is two stories set to two different time scales that run parallel to each other; the first being the transformation of the beach which through the duration of the novel is a mere day in relation to the storyline of the characters which spans their whole lives. This is a delicious juxtapositioning that truly works and gives the reader a sense of how fleeting life is with regards to the natural elements around us.

“On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.”

However, this wonderful structure does not help. The fact remains that I just couldn’t stop my mind from wandering off because of how damn  internalized everything is. The downfall of the novel is that everybody is talking in their own heads and no one is really interacting with each other. It lacks action which I think is fundamental necessity. It doesn’t help that we sometimes get no indication of who is speaking when, it’s very much like the characters are all insular, disembodied voices that float somewhere in the ether directly above their tangible, physical selves. Yet in direct opposition to this, there are moments when these ghostly voices word an emotion or a moment that is often more real than reality itself.

‘The Waves’ is a very complex and deeply disturbing novel that reaches into and explores the ‘self’ inside us that thinks and records our personal histories free from the restraints of language. Whenever I reach for any of Woolf’s works I have always been torn in two about her narrative style. She is either a pioneer of capturing the obliqueness of human thought, or the one who releases it from the constraints of language.

“I begin to long for some little language such as lovers use, broken words, inarticulate words, like the shuffling of feet on pavement.”    

I have not yet made up my mind on what she was really aiming for as a writer. However I am certain that through her novels and short stories she was forever travelling towards the first moment of our being, when we make our initial impressions of objects and emotions that are so unbearably poignant that it hurts. I could say that ‘The Waves’ has packed full of such moments, especially the first part.

This is a novel that I’ll probably have to come back to later in order to fully appreciate it’s beauty.

For now, 2/5 stars.

This novel is now available in the public domain at:

The Gutenberg Australia website and in numerous formats on Feedbooks.com

View all my reviews

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