To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Triad/ Panther Books, 1977
Originally published in 1927
They gather on the island, a motley collection of artists and philosophers, all drawn together by the magnetic presence of Mrs Ramsay. She wears her ageless beauty carelessly and shares her warmth with them all, but always there is a part of her beyond anyone’s reach – beyond her demanding husband, who lays his fears of obscurity upon her shoulders; beyond his adoring protégé and her restless younger friends; sometimes even beyond herself. But within Mrs Ramsay’s circle, the boundaries are shifting. The smallest of moments can haunt you for a lifetime.
This is such a very strange book it is difficult to compose a blurb at all; there is only the vaguest suggestion of a plot, barely any action at all and the stream of consciousness sentence structure is mostly bewildering. It is the first Woolf novel I’ve tried and at first it didn’t engage me at all. The more I read, though, the more fascinating the characters became; the angles from which they see each other, the ways in which they see themselves, and particularly the way Mrs Ramsay’s friends’ fantasies about her clash against the real woman. It’s startling and refreshing how honest it feels. A dreamily melancholic atmosphere suffuses the book, but there is a strong vein of quiet, dry humour here too. Woolf’s other works include Mrs Dalloway and Orlando.