Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Waves by Virginia Woolf


The Waves by Virginia Woolf
First published in the UK by Hogarth Press in October 1931. Audiobook narrated by Frances Jeater published by Naxos Audio in December 2004.

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook via Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Waves traces the lives of six friends from childhood to old age. It was written when Virginia Woolf was at the height of her experimental literary powers, and she allows each character to tell their own story, through powerful, poetic monologues. By listening to these voices struggling to impose order and meaning on their lives we are drawn into a literary journey which stunningly reproduces the complex, confusing and contradictory nature of human experience.

I first started listening to my download of The Waves by Virginia Woolf in April (2015) and, although it is only a fraction over nine hours, it took me two months to get around to finishing. The Waves is a very different book to any I think I have read or heard before. Essentially prose poetry, it is told in the first person in turn by each of six protagonists, three male and three female. All are pretty much the same age and from the same privileged background. They met as children and we follow them through their lives.

I had great difficulty initially getting into the flow of The Waves (Woolf makes many watery puns, so shall I!) and it wasn't until about 1/3 down that I could really concentrate on what was being said. The early chapters, as children, consist of brief overlapping sentences which I found incredibly soporific. I just couldn't stay awake! Once the characters get older and indulge in longer, detailed monologues, this problem faded. Woolf has created strong individuals which are generally easy to identify whether the narrator has introduced them each time or not. I liked learning how they all saw each other as well as how they saw themselves. Plus the observations of time passing in the natural world and of social etiquette and customs are fascinating - Louis trying to hide his Australian-ness in the tea shop being a prime example

Woolf's snobbery is frequently apparent with maids in particular being only dismissively mentioned. I was also irritated by the patronising descriptions of 'little shopkeepers' and how idyllic it must be to only just make ends meet each week. One character, Bernard I think, even declares he would love to give up all his money for such a life. Tellingly, he doesn't!

I did enjoy the sheer joy in language of The Waves. Beautifully poetic writing is wonderful to hear and Julia Franklin is the perfect narrator. For me though, the lack of early accessibility and later overwhelming intensity meant I had to keep putting the book aside and my three star rating reflects this.

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Books by Virginia Woolf / Audiobooks / Books from England

6 comments:

  1. It's good that you liked it even if you did have a few problems with it.

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    1. Sometimes I need to give a book a second chance before I can get into it and that was the case here

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  2. I've never read anything by Virginia Woolf! I seem to be lacking a lot in the 'must read' author area.

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    1. I think Mrs Dalloway was my favourite of hers so far, and I enjoyed Orlando too

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  3. I have this one on my shelf and I do want to read it eventually. I am very much looking forward to reading it either this year or next year. It sounds like it can be a bit difficult to adjust to her style and simply the way she writers this book. But it sounds like it was worth it :)

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    1. I might have been better off reading this one rather than listening to it. I usually find Woolf suits me better on audio, but the rhythms here were too soporific!

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