on 1 August 2000
In my view this is Woolf's best book. It is less of a novel as one usually expects - more a 300-page poem in prose form. The key to reading the book is to simply let the words flow over you - don't try to decipher the literal meaning of every sentence, just enjoy the sensations that their shape and texture give you. Ostensibly about the lives of five friends from birth to death, the book can actually be interpreted as an attempt by Woolf to delve deep into various facets of her own psyche, and a sharp reader will doubtless notice many of their own deepest psychological experiences in there.
A word of warning - don't try it if you've never read Woolf before. This is Woolf at her most abstract and esoteric. Try Mrs. Dalloway or Orlando first to get used to her style, then perhaps To The Lighthouse, before you try this. But for those who read the book with the right approach, the rewards are enormous, and indeed potentially life-changing.
on 2 August 2004
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?
She was an author I had put off reading for some time now, for reasons I'm not sure I fully understand, but having finally got around to reading her once, I'm looking forward to a second chance.
For the first time in a long time, I have found myself shocked by a book. By the style as well as the substance. I remember an old friend describing the first time he heard 'Sunshine of your love' by Cream in the sixties and how he thought 'I didn't know you could do that, make that sound with a guitar'. Reading this book shocked me out of the complacency of what a novel could be or achieve.
In a stream of consciousness narrative, echoing the tide's waxing and waning over a single day, the novel follows the life of six friends from childhood to old age. It's a novel of feeling and sound, emotive more than cognitive. Poignant, halcyonic, melancholic - like it's author. A wonderful poetic gift that needs to be felt. A book to return to again and again.
on 22 May 1999
This novel must invent its own narrative form to speak, and does; Woolf perfects her own poetics through the voices of six characters as we follow them from infancy to death, all in the course of a day. But the novel is not merely a formal or stylistic exercise in describing the world: it is one of the twentieth century's most moving accounts of the mostly unspoken, largely unspeakable shock at there being a world at all.
This is the first virginia woolf book that I have had the fortune to read, and I must comment that I was blown away by it's fantastically original style. It reads to me as a beautiful at times haunting long poem, that never ceases to enage the reader. The story is based around 7 individuals and documents their lives from children to adults. The book can be a little confusing at times due to the nature of it's content, but the sheer beauty of the words carries it through it's weaker moments. So lovely I might even read it again.
on 20 March 2009
Possibly one of the best books I've ever read. This is writing at its most skilled, incorporating excellent ideas about life, death and being. I found that rather than reading the book and deliberating over every word, I let the book read me. This is a very enlightening read, when read like this. Unusually, I also found this an easier read than `To the Lighthouse'.
on 9 September 2016
A book review of The Waves by Virginia Woolf.
About the author from the book
Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth- century author, a great novelist and essayist, and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother and her step- sister leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.
Blurb on the back
Tracing the lives of a group of six friends, The Waves follows the development from childhood to youth and middle age. Separately and together, they query the relationship of past to present and the meaning of life itself.
Good bits about the book
This book is unique, her style of writing and subjects she chooses are like no other. The way she writes is as if it is a long poem, not sure if this is a good point or not.
Bad bits about the book
Basically I don’t like this author, I have previously read Orlando and thought it was really quite strange but I tried to go into this book with an open mind except this book is also really quite strange.
If you want a lesson in similes and metaphors then this is the book for you as one or the other appear on pretty much every other line.
The book is completely set in the minds of six friends, there is no outward communication between them. You know when the narrative is moving from one friend to the other as the beginning of the paragraph starts with “Bernard said” such and such. I just didn’t get on with this style of writing.
Two out of five stars.
on 30 April 2009
The Waves follows the lives of six friends from childhood to adulthood. There is no dialogue, but we follow the innermost thought of each of the characters. This provides a unique experience, different from that of any other books I've read: it can be (barely) summed up as a collection of intertwined monologues. As such, it's somewhat closer to a theatre play than a novel. I suggest it to read it out loud: only then, Woolf's delicate and precise choice of words (and sounds) can be fully appreciated.
As any other novel by Virginia Woolf, this book can be daunting, and the lack of explicit dialogue can make it fell more so. However, it's an enriching emotional experience.
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.
on 24 March 2016
I expect to re-read “The Waves” (1931), in part because its (Modernist) difficulty is likely to release new meanings, rather than confirm assumptions or provide reassurance, but also because as its six characters get older and, in their interspersed monologues, contemplate death so they seem to matter more and move beyond their very irritating youthful characters.
Even after one reading, though, I would say that while “The Waves” is acute on time, it relegates the social and historical insights that occur from time to time, and, to my surprise, at least, emerge much more unerringly in “Mrs Dalloway” (1925) and “To the Lighthouse” (1927). Possibly, this is because Virginia Woolf sticks, mostly, to the perspectives (and the narrowness of political outlook) of Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, and Louis; but, equally, it could be because of Woolf’s allegiance to the values of nature announced in the title and pursued doggedly, as well as through the unnamed third-person narrator who follows the rhythm of one day even as the six named characters go through to middle-age. This allegiance to nature or natural reality is quite deliberate on Woolf’s part and distinguishes “The Waves” from “To the Lighthouse”, which, in some respects, it resembles. Whereas in “To the Lighthouse”, for all its Modernist interest in consciousness, there is a concern with how people inter-relate in society, in “The Waves” “the contact of with one another” is “strange” for the characters. Almost in spite of her metaphysical interests, though, there are so many wonderful passages in “The Waves” when society – and particularly London society -- presses upon the more worldly of the six characters that there is an even greater novel shadowing the novel that Virginia Woolf has written.
on 22 May 2016
I will not repeat other peoples words praising Virginia Woolf's The Waves. For I truly love the woman, her style and her stories.
I have only one MAJOR complaint about this edition. Even if I am very lucky, not having too many people around me who can spoil the story for me(they read modern junk), this book actually spoiled itself.
The Wordsworth editions are usually lined with numbered references which are very useful for understanding the context of current events, people you've never heard of etc. But one of the notes in this edition, spoiled a major change in the book before it had happened.
Buy it for the story, do NOT read note #50.