Monday, 25 July 2011

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (4/5)

The back says: London, at the end of the First World War, basks in the summer heat, Clarissa – Mrs Dalloway – prepares for one of the charming parties.

Yet as the evening approaches, the unexpected arrival from India of her first lover Peter Walsh, triggers vivid memories of the past until, piece by piece, Clarissa brings to the surface the story of her life, of childhood dreams, and the row so many years ago that precipitated her uneventful marriage.

She is suddenly and startingly aware of the force of life going on around her; of Septimus Warren Smith going quietly mad with shell-shock; of her daughter Elizabeth, almost a woman, and of Peter, unaltered, yet changed as she feels herself to be. In Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf reveals the differences in the way people think and see and treat one another, brilliantly evoking the feel of the time and, through the eyes of each character, the feel of life itself.

I say: For some reason I love Virginia Woolf. I’ve been fascinated by her life and her death for years, and so it’s weird that it’s actually taken me this long to read anything by her. Or not, really; I was afraid I’d be disappointed.

But I wasn’t.

I really like her style of writing; the long lyrical sentences and the poetic prose that draws you into a sort of dreamlike state on this one quite ordinary day. In the beginning I didn’t know what to expect; the synopsis didn’t really mean anything to me, and it was, in the end, Woolf’s writing that made this enjoyable for me because, to be honest, the really isn’t much of a story here. And that’s fine – it’s all about what lies underneath, and it’s that subtlety of emotions and hints at past and future behaviour that drew me in deeper.

For a novel called Mrs Dalloway I was quite surprised to find out how much the narrative focused on the other characters as well. Sure, all of the stories connected in some way, and this is in no way a critique; it was just surprising.

I usually take notes when I read books, but for some reason I didn’t do that while reading this, which is a shame because I’m longing for quotes. Either way, I’m looking forward to re-reading it in the future so that I can dissect it properly and spend hours thinking about all that’s left unsaid between and by the characters.

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