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Review: To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

The Ramsay family travels to Skye, a small Scottish island, in the summers, their large house bursting with childish games and guests invited to stay.  Towards the end of their stay, unfortunately, six-year-old James has still not been to visit the lighthouse, but the visit is promised for the next day.  That promise is not fulfilled until ten years later, in the final stage of the novel, where the nearly-adult James finally gets his chance to see the long awaited lighthouse, when everything in his life is completely different.

On its own merits, I loved this book.  I really like the way Virginia Woolf writes.  Maybe because I’d never heard enough about her to be intimidated, I fell in love with her writing style in Mrs. Dalloway and clearly that hasn’t changed with the passing of a few years.  It takes a little more effort, but I find her writing to just flow perfectly in line with my own thoughts.  I think she captures the vagaries of the human mind better than any other writer I’ve ever read.  And the characterization here was so interesting – in so few pages she builds genuine feelings from all these characters towards one another.  And the middle section – the way time moves on no matter what happens in people’s lives – is masterful and awe-inspiring.

I found it even more interesting, though, when I started reading Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf.  Much of this novel can be read as autobiographical, and apparently the author and her sister interpreted it precisely that way.  I’ll have a lot more to say about that biography when I finish it, but I immediately wanted to start this over and look at it from that way.  I can already tell that this is a book which will only improve on re-reading, now that I can pick up nuances and already know what happens.  But I suspect all of Woolf’s writing will be like that.

This is only a short review, but it’s impossible to put all I felt about To the Lighthouse into words, honestly.  Her work just feels so true to me.  I immediately wanted to read it again – and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with a little patience to get used to her style.

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