Last night, my book club met to discuss Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. Well, if you look modernist literature this book is definitely for you. I’ll give you my copy if money is tight. I mean, it wasn’t that I didn’t like the book but~.
There is no plot as such; in The Waves Woolf tells the life story of a group of friends through a series of monologues by each character. Bernard said, Rhoda said, Jinny said etc. Then, the book ends.
The book is technically brilliant. Despite it being very experimental, Woolf sustains her narrative to the end. Well, almost. The last pages are dominated by Bernard. When the rest of the book has seen the lines shared between the characters this felt like Woolf had lost faith in them.
But problem the problem was not the book’s but mine. I was never able to find a way into it. There was no character through whom I could really get into the story. They were all far away – neck deep in neuroses.
Secondly, oh the neuroses. I am all for interior monologues; I use them a lot whenever I write but they are mightily dangerous things to use when your characters are completely self-absorbed.
Thirdly, the lack of a plot made the narrative all so samey. I read the first half of the book religiously. At the half-way point I had a crisis of faith about where the book was going (nowhere) and never recovered. From then on I started to speed read, looking first for the verb in each sentence.
The Waves felt most of all like a technical exercise, and a text written for intellectuals with the time to read around it in order to catch the meaning in all that Woolf was saying; perhaps it was written for the Bloomsbury Set. I don’t think it was written for the man in the street.
To end on a positive note – Woolf’s powers of description are great, consistently so in the introduction to each chapter, where she describes the movements of the waves on the shore. I would happily tear out all the other pages and keep those.
Front Cover of The Waves: Penguin Books