Woolf, To the Lighthouse book cover

I read this little gem on my sofa, with tea, as the diluted winter light spilled in through my large front window; all in all the  pretty much perfect conditions for reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Now, I knew going into it that I was in for a treat (I’d read Mrs. Dalloway in school and “Street Haunting“on the bus), but I didn’t realize how pampered I would feel by the lush prose, or the lovingly rendered vignettes. The book is structured into three sections, and the first section is a psychological collage reflecting one end of summer afternoon on the Isle of Skye. The characters are the Ramsay Family and a loose collection of boarders in the their big country home, and the narrative is a tapestry woven together from the many dropped threads that make up each characters thoughts and impressions, which frays even as it is being woven.

Man, I liked this book. Woolf took on a lot of thematic content in this little volume, and I am not exactly qualified to unpack all of it, especially here. Nonetheless, I can’t help but come back, again and again,  to two specific little things that tie together a number of the characters. So many of the fragmented thoughts and observations that make up the bulk of the text are devoted to excellence, to creation, to worrying about being excellent, to the compulsive machinations of a mind racing towards excellence.  And yet, at the same time, these characters are equally obsessed with intimacy, with empathy, with sympathy, with that feeling of togetherness. They are always pairing off, teaming up, or taking measure of each others emotions, always crashing up against each other in search of admiration and intimacy. There’s something in the way that Lilly Briscoe, in particular, tangles up her ideas about love and about her work that is staggeringly beautiful.

I’m stoked to read some more Woolf this year! Flush and Moments of Being are both in queue.

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