To The Lighthouse

 To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Told from the point of view of various character's thoughts, it covers two separate days, ten years apart, in the life of the Ramsay family. 

Mrs. Ramsay, her husband, and their eight children are staying at their somewhat rundown summer house on the Isle of Sky, along with several guests invited to join them for a few days. Mrs. Ramsay wants to take James, their youngest, to the lighthouse across the water the next day, but her husband insists that it will rain and they won't be able to go. To her thinking, he gets too much enjoyment out of repeating his prediction and seeing their disappointment. 

In the first section of the book, we are privy to Mrs. Ramsay's thoughts about her role as a woman, wife and mother; her conjectures about their guests; Mr. Ramsay's musings about his family and his own self-doubt; and the reflections of some of the visitors. 

To be honest, at this point I found myself getting bored, but then, suddenly, it took a new direction. After several deaths in the family, the Ramsays stop coming to the summer house for a period of ten years. An aging housekeeper is left to look after the place but it is too big a job for one person and things begin to run down. The description of the deterioration is so well done, so hauntingly beautiful that I found it the most interesting, and most moving, part of the book.

Ten years after the family's last visit, the housekeeper receives a letter telling her to get the house ready - no small job - for the family to return. This part is told through the housekeeper's thoughts about putting the house in order and her speculations about the family. Once they arrive, along with some of the same guests oddly enough, Mr. Ramsay and three of his children set out to finally make the trip to the lighthouse. 

I can't say I loved the story but I do admire the mind that conceived and wrote it. Revealing the character's attitudes and desires and the nature of their relationships through their thoughts rather than plot and dialogue gives the reader deeper insight into them than we would gain from only their actions and words, but it's a bold thing for an author to do. It was unusual, and refreshing in a way, to be taken into her character's minds and to hear the entire story from there. I've read only three other books written in the stream-of-consciousness style: Ulysses by James Joyce, which I gave up on half-way through and with which I was not nearly as impressed as the scholarly reviewers (who admittedly know far more than I) said I should be, and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, both of which were absolutely mesmerizing. It's a style that's beginning to grow on me. 

I can see why this is a classic and still being studied after all this time. Like all good books it helps us to understand the human race, including ourselves, just a little bit better.  


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