on November 15, 1999
I was introduced to Virginia Woolf in college when I took an entire class devoted to her work. Although I had never read any of her work before, I quickly became a fan. My professor saved the best for last - The Waves. This book is the most poetic, most profound, most intimate book I have ever read.
No one speaks in this book. You follow the characters' lives from childhood to adulthood by entering their minds and listening to their thoughts. At first it is difficult to figure out what is going on. There is no narration except short poetic passages about the sea and the sun's placement over it preceding each section of the book (and each period of the characters' lives). By the middle of the book, you know who is speaking without reading the name of the character. You know how they think.
I strongly encourage anyone who is even slightly curious to buy this book. This small investment can change how you view the world. The Waves takes much longer to get through than some whodunit, but that's the beauty of it. My husband and I read a passage at night before going to bed. It's best when read slowly, with time to reflect after a small amount of pages. You'll be highlighting sentences that make great quotes as you go. What a glorious book!
on October 25, 1999
Even if you've read other Virigina Woolf, you haven't come close to the experience of The Waves. Did you have to read To the Lighthouse for some class back in college? The Waves seems like a totally different author. Perhaps Jacob's Room comes closer, but still The Wave is unique:
The whole text is entirely soliloquys in the first person. No 3rd person description, no omniscient narrator, just the opening of quotation marks, one of the few characters begins to speak, then the ending of quotation marks... beginning once more with the opening quotation marks for the next speaker's soliloquy, and so on and on in waves of thought.
We follow each speaker from early childhood to old age, and we know them intimately by the book's end. Give the book a chance; at first I could only take three or four *pages* at a time, but also looked forward to these few pages every day. Later, I could easily read more and more, and truly the experience was like "waves" of life, lapping over my consciousness.
If you like unique "novels," e.g. Nabokov's Pale Fire (although different it's unique too), this is a must-have. There's nothing else like it, even in Virginia Woolf's body of work.
If you can't take the full load of first-person consciousness, but like her dreamy style, then go for her book of short stories. But I recommend keeping the book, and treating yourself, a few pages at a time... you too will feel at the end of a magnificent life's journey by time you follow each character's thoughts to the end.
on June 16, 2000
You have never read a book like this. But don't let that intimidate. This is her most experimental work, but it is still much more accesible than many other modernists. Her sentences and paragraphs are intelligible; it's more the accumulation of pages that might begin to baffle some readers. Woolf obviously requires a good deal of concentration, but her best works are rewarding in a way that many difficult writers are not. (You won't need a professor nearby or a mess of annotations to guide you through dense thickets of allusion-filled, abstract prose.)
I consider this to be Woolf's greatest work. Mrs. Dalloway may be a more pleasurable read and more consistently a "masterpiece", but the Waves is often so intense and beautiful that it's devastating. In fact, there are times that one is a bit overwhelmed by the surfeit of emotion, poetic words, unremitting interiority.
My Woolf pix in order: 1. Waves 2. Dalloway 3. Jacob's Room 4. A Room of One's Own 5. Orlando
I personally feel that To the Lighthouse is more of a work to be appreciated than liked--it's simply too refined. And I couldn't make it through Between the Acts--too many upper class English people sitting around a table in the country sipping tea and performing their subtle, boring manners.
Wait, I can't end on a sour note: Woolf is a bloody delight!
on November 17, 2004
Although at times I consider myself intelligent, after reading "The Waves," I must now concede to being mediocre in my intellect. Upon finishing the novel, I consulted various criticisms and opinions on the work to find that I missed much of what was portrayed in the book. Therefore, I admit to being ignorant. However, I still believe everyone's response to a work is valuable and this is mine:
Just like many other works by Virginia Woolf, there were moments when I was absolutely swept away by the depth of her narrative and the poignancy of her descriptions. Put simply, she blows my mind and this is why I continue to read her. However, I often wonder if the subconscious mind babble that we encounter everyday is worth repeating. Perhaps there is a reason why we have public presentations and filter out much of what we typically are thinking. Therefore, my response to this novel is undecided. Upon finishing the novel, renditions of Shakespeare's "To be or not to be?" ran through my head. I find Woolf's characters and their ambiguous identities and feelings to be confusing and I feel frustrated by their inability to provide me with an answer to the great questions of life. Of course, I realize that life is supposedly more about the questions than the answers and if the goal of good writing it to provoke conversation and thought, Virginia Woolf certainly has done that here. If the purpose of reading is to somehow see ourselves and our struggles reflected in someone else's writing, then Woolf has accomplished that much. Nevertheless, I found the novel to be frustrating in that Woolf provides very little direction or resolution for the reader. I felt as if I was left hanging in so many ways.
Final verdict (after my convoluted and likewise ambiguous review):
It is certainly worth reading for those moments that resonate with the soul, but don't be surprised if it shakes you up, tosses you around, and then leaves you feeling more bewildered than ever before.
And I still wonder what caused her to kill herself. I wish I had that answer.
on May 20, 2003
In this somewhat puzzling novel the sun rises and it sets, six people grow together from infant children to old age, and the waves crash endlessly upon the shore. That is about as close as you will get to a plot in this book. Everything else that happens, school, marriage, even death, seem to be nothing more than passing intensities amid the overbearing silence that is the roar of existence.
I picked up this book after reading Mrs Dalloway. I loved Dalloway. It was the first Woolf book I had read and it blew me away. In comparison, reading The Waves was like taking a sandblaster to my eyeballs. She uses stream of consciousness as a medium to delve as deep as she possibly can into the intricacy of existence. Not much happens on a specific and literal level outside of the rising of the sun, but the endless poetry pouring forth from the perceptive cores (I'd say "minds" but I think it goes a bit beyond even that) of these six characters speaks volumes on the fearsome intensity of beauty, the vast complexity of sadness, and the endless endless isolation of the human soul.
It is at times so deep and so personal that I felt more than a bit uncomfortable reading it. The effort is well worth it however. Woolf more than any other author I have read, struggles to communicate the hidden message contained in all stories and books... A message forever clouded in meanings and phrases... Lost in its own words.
on June 6, 2004
In my opinion, The Waves is the best English Novel ever written. Through this novel, Woolf solves one of the main problems of modern writing -- the problem of subjectivity, namely, how can we connect with other people in a real way, if we are limited by our own conscious experience. In the Waves, Woolf helps us transcend our own consciousness, helps us break down the divisions between ourselves and the rest of the world through her use of language.
In The Waves, Woolf does not merely drop us into the consciousness of her characters. For example, the language at the beginning of the novel describing the very first sensory experiences of each of her characters, is too complex for a new born infant. Instead, Woolf uses sophisticated language to place the reader in the same mindset as each character, and in doing so the reader comes to have direct experience of another person outside of themselves.
Every sentence in this book describes something real and true about the world. She puts voice to experience that I didn't know that I had. She communicates the very hardness of communicating and she does it beautifully. This book changed my whole life.
The Waves is definitely a challenging read, but well worth it. I believe that anyone can enjoy this book if they are willing to put in the effort. Read it -- you will thank yourself.
on October 12, 2000
I loved this book, for both what it says - about life, time and relationships - and for how it says it. It is also true, though, that it is one of her less accessible works, and can occasionally be frustrating in its vagueness. To anyone considering buying this book, DO - it's worth it - 2 things that I learnt, though:
1. This is probably not good as an introduction to Virginia Woolf, modernism or 'stream of consciousness' writing - it may be a good idea to read "To The Lighthouse" first.....
2. If you're a genuis or an English teacher you may understand this right off, I don't know - but for the rest of us, I think that it's worth a second read, the first to feel the rhythm, and the second to actually understand the message (if that doesn't sound too ridiculous!) - otherwise it is easy to get bogged down and frustrated, as I did it the first time I read it. Every time I reread this book, I discover something new, despite the fact that spent almost a month studying it in depth....
on July 17, 2004
With Woolf, as with Proust, it is easy to accuse the writing of being "dull" and lacking action or even plot. But for these authors the language itself IS the action. Nothing happens and yet everything happens. Just as their work tends to shy away from the conventions of the novel, I believe they are to be read just as unconventionally as they were written. Specifically, The Waves reads like the longest prose poem in the history of the language. When read as a "novel" it does indeed become every bit as difficult as a lot of readers say it is. Though Woolf attempts to differentiate between characters as though straining to achieve at least the skeletal image of the "novel," she does this only superficially by drifting from one name to another. The unwavering language maintains precisely the same tone and intensity throughout, and the focus of Woolf's lucid inquiry never drifts far from its central themes. The book is a series of dramatic monologues that blend indistinguishably into one another. Woolf was preoccupied here with mortality, transience, loneliness and the meaning of friendship, not with telling a story (though a story does get told in the process). As a poem, though, it reads like a great lost chapter of the Bible; a curious, explosive and inward lexicon of the human experience so sacred in its expression as to be humanly impossible. "All mists curl off the roof of my being," Woolf muses in one of the book's most gorgeous lines. It is a perfect description of the alert reader's response: an exuberance bordering on epiphany. If Dickinson is right and the great poem makes one feel as though the top of one's head has been sawn off, then The Waves is a great poem. There have been many great writers, but few who approach the eloquent desperation of this text.
on July 10, 2006
Considered by many who should know (e.g., E. M. Forester)to be Woolf's most brilliant work of genius, The Waves is a challenging book to read for many reasons, not the least of which is the style she has adopted. More like an extended Greek chorus than anything else, the six characters, whose "voices" sound identical to one another, speak their life stories in short, alternating monologues. Although the writing is very poetic, it is also very dense and very distancing. We never really warm up to any of the characters or get involved in their stories.
I had to read this book for a class and, though I'm glad I made it through to the end, it was difficult going and I know I never would have finished it (or even gotten through ten pages of it) if I hadn't had the carrot of a grade hanging over it. We had to read the whole thing in a week which is really not a good way to tackle this book. Best read in small segments, leisurely, absorbing each moment Woolf choses to highlight. Definitely not a plane or beach book!
If you haven't read Woolf before, this is not the book to start with. Mrs. Dalloway is, in my opinion, the best and most accessible of Woolf's experimental fictions and a good starting place for access into this great 20th century author's works. Then, if your brave, move onto "To the Lighthouse" and then, shudder, "The Waves."
on April 25, 2006
Our book club in Cancun read it for April. We can be a critical group, but this one received nothing but praise from those of us who actually FINISHED it. Through the night the message was "It's well worth it! Stick with it!" It is confusing at the beginning for those of us who've been reading best sellers awhile, and it was hard to learn to pace your reading. (Some advice: don't tackle it for less than 30 minutes at a time, and do some biographical research on Woolf before or while you read it).
I'd love to give some of our group's analyses, but that might ruin it for some of you. I'll limit that to just saying that we had a very fine conversation that night, full of thoughtful speculation. And many of us have been commenting that meeting for days afterward. We're a very small community here, and culture is hard to come by. Woolf brought it to us on the waves (sorry). The Waves is prose; it's a work of art. What a pleasure! You can expect conversation about this novel to be of a higher literary level. It's a great book club read because it creates lots of thoughts to share.