Every summer, the Ramsay’s visit their summer home on the beautiful Isle of Skye, surrounded by the excitement and chatter of family and friends, mirroring Virginia Woolf’s own joyful holidays of her youth. But as time passes, and in its wake the First World War, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent through the vignette of the thoughts and observations of the novel’s disparate cast.
Focusing on the idiosyncrasies and insecurities which we all recognise in ourselves, this book by turns witty and dark with an ever-present feeling of familiarity. Woolf’s layered exploration of the relationships between people and places and the effects time has on both is as deft as it can be frustrating at times.
Played out over a decade in which WWI cruelly intervenes, this poignant depiction of life, explores themes of loss, class and social structure and the question of perception on the connections we make and what they mean to us.
The language is the key to the readers enjoyment (or otherwise), it is wonderfully written with long, rhythmic sentences, plenty of commas and swirling prose containing tangents that comes back on themselves time and again like the waves breaking below the Ramsay’s holiday home.
On the flip side, I found it easy to get somewhat disoriented if I didn’t concentrate, the lengthy sentences and abrupt change of character can render certain passages confusing if one is not constantly focussed. Of course if you do choose to lose yourself in the language, your patience will be infinitely rewarded by the richness of the prose.
It felt like I had spent an age reading through Woolf’s words but it was fitting, as this is one of those books that demands time and expects to be digested slowly for its richly descriptive paragraphs and multifaceted outlook on a number of factors. Life, death, feminism, psychology, place in society and so forth are all spoken about in subtle allusions rooted in literature and the thoughts of the time.
As the characters interact, we see their relationships and how they view the world, their private opinions on life and the other guests in all the petty, contradictory, thoughtful tumultuousness that is the human mind. It’s easy to relate to these people in all their flawed ways. This is a thought-provoking, observant and challenging book which celebrates human nature in a very real light and the cocktail of complicated demands and roles that we must perform and observe for no other reason than because this is what we do and what is expected of us.
Having gotten to the end and ruminated over what it all means, what else can I say but it is a celebration of those moments that define thoughts and understandings, that clarify, that prove pivotal to the unique world view of the thinker. I really enjoyed it, the book captures what it is to be alive, to perceive and to exist in a social mess that attempts to define us when we are an enigma to ourselves. It considers the inward chaos of thoughts but equally important defines and explores the limits of what cannot be analysed.