Books

Book review: The Waves

I can’t tell you how long this book has been sitting on my Kindle but I can tell you it has been too long. I read A Room of One’s own back in 2014 and loved it so perhaps that’s when I decided that I wanted to read more Woolf at some point. I am certain however, that I didn’t know what The Waves was when I downloaded it.

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The Waves is one of the stranger books I’ve read. It follows six children, three boys and three girls, almost from infancy straight through to old age. The six take it in turns to tell the story in a stream-of-consciousness, monologue fashion with switches between the different narrators not always immediately obvious. The prose is deeply poetic and I would not be in the least surprised to hear that the book had been turned into a short play. I’d probably go to see it.

The six are Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda. There’s also Percival, a little older than the others, not with them at their nursery but appearing at school. Percival, in the eyes of the six, is perfect. They idolise him and he quickly becomes their hero but he never tells any of the story himself.

Each of the characters has their own distinct personality which grows and develops through the novel. They each see things differently and ea, therefore, form different opinions around what they see. It’s easy to identify with every single one of them at different stages and perhaps this is intentional, apparently, Woolf had said that “the six were not meant to be ‘characters’ at all, but rather facets of consciousness illuminating a sense of continuity.” Right. Of course.

Although the six stay friends throughout their whole lives, one theme that I felt was surprisingly strong was that of loneliness. I was surprised at how much they held back from each other when so often they craved companionship. I was surprised at, later in their lives, how little they seemed to have lives of their own apart from each other and apart from work. Although they met more rarely as they grew older, they didn’t seem to come together to share new things but to reminisce about old. Perhaps that’s simply a reflection of what life was like for English children growing up in the first half of the 20th century, but it struck me as narrow. Perhaps, on the other hand, it’s simply impossible to write a novel in this style if you include anything extra in it.

In any case, I enjoyed the book. It’s fascinating and there’s no doubt that it’s incredibly well-written. I’m actually surprised that it doesn’t appear more often on Must Read lists, or Greatest Books lists, or indeed, A-Level required reading for English Literature. It surprised me how different it was from A Room of One’s Own. Even so, I’m still not quite sure what to think about it, and I have to admit that it left me feeling uneasy.

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