Saturday 18 January 2014

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”

I wrote an extensive review but blogspot failed to save it properly and now its gone. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Anyways, here's a shorter review instead: 

Considering that To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway are two of my favorite novels of all time, my expectations were set extremely high for The Waves, which, unfortunately, left me with mixed emotions. This work is definitely not recommended for Virginia Woolf initiates since it will likely discourage one from reading anything by her ever again. It requires a great deal of patience from the reader and encourages deep reflection. Her experimental stream-of-consciousness style of writing is sublime as much as it is dense and overwhelming. Woolf takes a sledge hammer to the traditional narrative form leaving scattered fragments of memory bursting with poetic language. The primary focus here is on exploring human consciousness and inner experience. The novel follows the lives of six friends from childhood as they mature into adulthood but only presents their individual inner monologues. Life, death and everything in between is contemplated and analyzed by these characters to form a gestalt of human thought patterns. 

This is poetry in novel form. One does not simply read The Waves like any ordinary novel-- it must be experienced. I found it more rewarding to pick out a random page and slowly submerse myself into the text, letting the majestic beauty of Woolf's prose wash over me, carrying me along in a current of ebbing and flowing thoughts towards transcendence or life-altering epiphanies. Many critics and people whose opinions I trust on the subject of literature declare The Waves to be Virginia Woolf's crowning achievement. Perhaps they are correct in this assessment because it is the quintessential novel that fully immerses itself in the innovative stream-of-consciousness style that made her famous as a writer. Nonetheless, I did not find it nearly as accessible as To the Lighthouse or Mrs. Dalloway and often struggled to establish a connection with the material. She is operating on a much higher intellectual level that proved very difficult to comprehend at times, often leaving me cold and distant. However, Woolf's ability to capture moments of truth and profound insight of what it means to be human is uncanny. Her prose is absolutely mesmerizing in its beauty and innovative use of language. There is a great novel buried somewhere within this perplexing work but it is going to take me a life-time to even begin a thorough understanding of its many layers.

This novel is part of the Classics Club Challenge.


  1. Definitely not the first Woolf book I would encourage anyone to read. She's dense under the best of circumstances and when she's being intentionally obtuse . . . no easy reading to be found.

  2. I don't know if I would go as far to call her writing obtuse but it can certainly be very difficult to wrap your head around. Even though I might not understand everything she is getting at in this novel, there is a pervasive sombre mood and emotions she is able to express quite vividly.

  3. I love Virginia Woolf, but my experience with this wasn't good. I think it was the third or fourth book I read by her, and I think, I hope rather, re-reading it may make it a more positive experience. That said, I can't say I'll ever agree that this is her "crowning achievement".

  4. To be very honest I am not that much fond of reading but one of my friend suggested to go for this. Considered as one of the most paramount modernist of her times, the books by Virginia Woolf were no less. The Waves was one of her masterpiece I thoroughly enjoyed reading and now I am looking forward to read more of her books.