Tuesday, April 11, 2017
An unconventional novel by any measure, but improving as it moves along
I'm actually beginning to like, or at least to appreciate, Virginia Woolf's The Waves. It's like no other novel, narrated, if that's even the right word, by 6 characters; in each chapter or section (unnumbered), representing a phase in the lives of these characters (childhood schooling, boarding school, college, early career, etc.) the characters "speak" in turn - speaking at some length about their dreams and aspirations, early on ambitious and lofty (becoming a great writer, a great poet, a great beauty, e.g.) but in the later chapters looking back on their lives and suffering from a sense of failure (would anyone in this room know who I am?, the would-be poet opines, for ex.), disappointment, disillusion. It's by no means a conventional story, aside from the unconventional narration: We really never learn what brought these 6 (plus a 7th, Percival, who doesn't speak but is the great hero - athletic, not studious, who dies in an accident in India just after college, and the whole group seems to have lost its bearing because of that) together in the first place, and there are really no scenes, incidents, or conflicts described in any detail. A blurb on the back of my old pb edition of this novel opines that the novel is made up of soliloquies, and I guess that's right - the characters are addressing us, but never one another, yet it's impossible to imagine this novel on stage: the characters would be hooted down, as their statements, if spoken aloud, would seem so odd, so out of touch w/ normal human speech. Similarly, each section begins with an italicized passage in which Woolf describes a scene in nature, always involving water and waves (we get it), but these are so over-written, even for Woolf, and even poorly written - dependent on forced similes or metaphors, many adverbs - that they don't show VW at her best. All that said, I have grown increasingly curious about the characters, as I begin to distinguish one from the other (impossible in the first few chapters but more clear as we go along) that I'd like to see what happens to them, where they stand at the end of the novel, the end of their lives.