Top positive review
on 15 October 2016
To describe Virginia Woolf's beguiling and intensely lyrical 'The Waves' as a novel, with all that the term novel usually implies, might be considered a little misleading - it is probably better described as a long prose poem or, perhaps, as a play for a chorus of six voices written in elliptical and richly poetical language. 'The Waves' has virtually no plot as such; Virginia Woolf commented herself that she was "writing to a rhythm, not a plot" and this book is full of rhythms and cadences where each sentence and paragraph flows and undulates in a manner comparable - as the author intended - to the waves of the ocean and the waves of the mind. The novel opens with a very atmospheric description of the sea at daybreak and introduces the reader to six young friends: Bernard, Neville, Louis, Susan, Rhoda and Jinny - who, when we first meet them, are children at pre-prep school; we then follow their lives as they move on to public school, where the boys meet Percival - whose "magnificence is that of some medieval commander" and with whom Neville falls in love. After school, Bernard and Neville go up to Cambridge; Louis goes into business; Susan is sent off to Switzerland to finish her education and to prepare her for a suitable marriage and Jinny returns to London. Percival sets off for India, where a tragedy occurs and one which has a significant and lasting impact on the six friends. As we read on, we learn - in fragments - how these six people live their lives separately, yet intertwined; how they go their own ways, but meet up as friends (and some of them as lovers) over the ensuing years; we read of how they experience the world around them; how they struggle to define who they are; how they attempt to cope with loss and how they ponder on what it means to be alive…
This novel, where the quality of the prose almost defies description, is the most original and lyrical of all of Virginia Woolf's novels and is a complex, yet tantalising story which requires the reader to immerse themselves fully in Woolf's sensuous language. Using a stream of consciousness narrative and the use of multiple inner monologues, the author reveals the vulnerabilities and complexities of her characters' personalities and, in doing so, she allows her readers to gain an impression of what it is like to be inside her characters' minds and to experience their inchoate thoughts and emotions. This novel is an extraordinary reading experience - I've read all of Virginia Woolf's books and there is nothing (in Woolf's body of work - or, that I have found, in anyone else's) that is quite like 'The Waves'. Having read this novel more than once over the years, this is perhaps where I should say that this unique and complex novel becomes clearer with each reading - but I'm not entirely sure that it does; it does, however, continue to impress, amaze and, in particular, to haunt me with each reading. A masterpiece.