It’s been years – no, decades – since I read any Virginia Woolf. And I’d be hard pushed to say what of hers I’ve read, apart from A Room of One’s Own (and when it’s so long ago, I’m not sure it counts).
People have written theses about what is considered to be Woolf’s greatest novel, so there’s little that I can add. Nevertheless, some brief thoughts.
I found the stream-of-consciousness narrative to be at times mesmerising, and at times tiring and circuitous. The descriptions – of the simplest things such as the passing of time, the curl of cigar smoke, the tilt of a horse’s head – are nothing short of exquisite, and the story emerges from this lush staging.
And everywhere, though it was still so early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats; Lords, Ascot, Ranalagh and all the rest of it; wrapped in the soft mesh of the grey-blue morning air, which, as the day wore on, would unwind them…
But what struck me most about the story was how sad and alone each character was – trapped by their place in society, by love or the lack of it, by past trauma – such a lonely, lonely book.
Their marriage was over, he thought, with agony, with relief.
If I thought hard about these characters, Plato’s cave allegory popped to mind, and how we’re trapped by convention… but truly, I didn’t spend much time thinking hard!
She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.
3/5 Persistence paid off (the ending was satisfying).
Bond Street fascinated her; Bond Street early in the morning in the season, its flags flying; its shops; no splash; no glitter; one roll of tweed in the shop where her father had bought his suits for fifty years; a few pearls; salmon on an ice-block.
I love salmon and will eat it however it’s served (but especially love smoked salmon blinis).