Friday, November 30, 2007

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

It's about this kid who wants to go to the lighthouse.

There. I've got the story out of the way. That's pretty much what it is. And it takes genius to write 200 pages of that.

Woolf is one of those absolutely rare, once-in-a-generation writers who have such mastery over words, and therefore over the reader, that it's almost a surreal experience to be reading her works. You recognise thoughts and feelings and emotions that you felt but could never imagine in ink and paper, even about such mundane things as the kitchen table. Reading Woolf is the literary equivalent of getting high.

'To the Lighthouse' is set in two days, separated by many years and many events. It's a wonderful play of tenses, thoughts oscillating to and fro, blurring the past from the present. As always, Woolf's power of observation is showed off in her acute understanding of the man-woman relationship, the triumphs and the glory, the fire and the ice.

The novel reads like a vision, almost untrue in its clarity. None but her own words, describing a painting in the story, can describe the beauty of her prose:
"Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent; one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly's wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses."

Verdict: Virginia Woolf is traditionally high-brow - a lot of people who've tried her novels find it hard to make sense of them, which increases the snob-value drastically and therefore finds special place on our blog. I would still maintain that she writes the most enchanting prose I have ever read, after Shakespeare. (I expect that to change once I learn Russian and read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy like they wrote it.)
As always, the strength of the novel is not so much in its plot, but in the lyrical beauty of the narrative. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Bhumika's Boudoir said...

I love the sheer genius of Woolf that makes even self-proclaimed high-brows summarize her plot as, "It's about this kid who wants to go to the lighthouse." :)