Monday, May 20, 2013

To The Lighthouse

After our gathering to discuss Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse I stand by my previous post, but acknowledge that the discussion it invoked was robust and intriguing.  

Indeed, large portions of the story occur inside the minds of each of the characters.  Melinda pointed out that it was a great study in how different reality is from what we think is happening.  While they had dinner each of the dinner guests had a completely different take on the conversation and interactions.  No one really had a clear take on the others motivations – and in most cases the assumptions being made were 100% removed from the true thoughts of the other persons.

As for my frustration with the pace and flow of the narrative, Christine was adamant that the details that Mrs. Woolf left out simply didn’t matter.   Yes, character A was dead and we don’t need to know why or how, or even what the others thought or experienced when it occurred.  They were dead and it is final.   We didn’t all (me) agree, but I respect her take on the narrative.

It is probably safe to predict that T.T.L. will not earn our Book of the Year prize as less than 50% of us managed to finish it.  That says something when the book is only 175 pages – sure they are serving soup for 100 of those pages, but still.

Mrs. Woolf did have an amazing gift for describing the details of regular life.  In Mrs. Dalloway, which we read in 2000,  a good portion of the story is devoted to preparing for a party, so it should be no surprise that dinner and an eventual journey to the lighthouse would be the plot of an entire book.   In our connected world, we certainly don’t spend this much time analyzing the details of daily life. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To The Lighthouse **

**written before our discussion. Ergo all thoughts are my own.

Virginia Woolf to me, is one of those authors whose works are known as capital L - Literature.  She was an important figure and her works are significant.  At least, this is what I think I'm supposed to think.  I find her work challenging to follow, mundane and rather... boring.  I know, as a modern reader I'm tainted by my love of fast media, rapid plots and Sixth Sense type twists.  I'm sure I'm also made lazy by the ability to look up any concept on Google rather than do actual research.  I'm sure I'm also shallow for never needing to spend time speculating the depth and meaning of actions.  I feel a sense of pride for having read Mrs. Dalloway and now To The Lighthouse.  I certainly cannot say I read War and Peace or finished some of the other capital L - Literature selections of late.  I do attribute some of my failures to the lack of forced downtime in the form of a daily bus commute.  However, I will admit that when I am captivated by a book, I find time in my busy life to read.  Oh shoot, I lost my broach.  Mrs. Woolf has a style of story telling that is as brief and stark as it is filled with languid descriptions of everyday tasks.  As I was reading it felt as though Mrs. Ramsay was serving soup to her guests for about 5 pages.  This may not seem overly long, but in a short story of only 117 pages, it was interminable. However later on we are only offered brief but extremely important plot points in the form of editorial notes,and then back to the soup we go.  Furthermore, the narrator will change mid-paragraph and always in the form of internal dialog.  "Gosh, this paragraph seems to be never ending and jumps from idea to idea." Thought the bright, exceedingly beautiful Terri.

[Terri finished the book at 9:00 at Starbucks while drinking a latte.] I had a terrible thought that if Mrs. Woolf spent as much time in her real life going over the details of every conversation and action then it's no wonder she filled her pockets with rocks and went for a swim in an icy river.  GOOD LORD the detail.  Also, and I'll mention this at book group tonight, would it be possible for Mrs. Woolf to loathe women more? She does not write of them kindly, they come across as flighty and useless.  Mrs. Ramsay can't seem to follow a simple discussion about taxation and is completely at at a loss when trying to understand a 20 line poem about the ocean.  Lily, one of the mystery guests at the Ramsay's summer house knows that there is an implicit rule for women to make their across the dinner table partner feel manly and boost his ego, so while he prattles on and on about poetry and heavens knows what, she make a point to smile.  TO SMILE!?  Well done little miss, well done!  For a woman who cannot write or paint, you are very accomplished.  Have some soup.  Wait, don't have a second bowl as Mr. Ramsay becomes angry when others eat when he has finished, I mean how long can this dinner go on?  All the talking and smiling is seriously getting on my nerves. Not that I would ever say anything about it.  You might wait sixteen years before ever hearing "hey, good work - that soup was really good."  Mrs. Ramsay, while not able to follow dinner conversation, very involved in the relationships of others.  Not her own children mind you,  [Sally went up the hill and broke her neck after less than a year.]  Perhaps she should have spent some of her free time at dinner thinking about her match making skills, looking inward at her own situation before deciding to put others together.  Taking driving lessons from the crash test dummies is not a wise choice.  I'm just saying.

Oh, and don't get me started on the Lighthouse.  Are we there yet? Are we going?  When can we go?  We should go.  Oh let's go tomorrow.  Why!?  I DON'T KNOW.  When we get there what will we do?  I DON'T KNOW.  Will it be nice there?  NO.  Will there be food or friends? NO.  Sounds awesome, let's pack up some shitty sandwiches, our painting supplies and some sullen teenagers and get to it!