Review: To the Lighhouse, Virginia Woolf

It was such a slow read. This book requires a lot more leisure time and mental space than I could afford to be able to really get into it. Nothing happens, yet it captures life with an unmatched scope, minute detail and slicing penetration. It explores the very texture of it: how life happens without and within us, ran through the numerous filters of attitudes, ideas, impressions, moods, knowledge, position in the world, disposition, ability to perceive, how it unfolds inside, leaves traces or sifts through, how it shapes the ways we see it and think of it in the future.


It also explores relationships – not just the things we say and do to each other, but the very fundamentals of connecting to people, of connecting to the world, of the forces that hold us together with everything around us and the forces that scatters us apart, at the gush of a wind. It penetrates the structure of human perception in what I think is a remarkable feat of writing about the inner life: it’s stark, it rings so authentic, and it’s beautifully crafted. It achieves what Lily Briscoe strives for in vain all those years: it captures and retains the „jar on the nerves“ and puts it in precise, building-block words to reveal the meaning of life, which is – make the ephemeral, eternal. Leave a trace in others’ minds by transforming a mundane moment, one of myriads, with your presence so that they may hold it fixed in their minds as a moment when they saw it all differently, were different people.

This is, hands down, the most beautiful prose I have ever read. Here’s a sample – a description of a place after the humans have abandoned it:

So with the house empty and the doors locked and the mattresses rolled round, those stray airs, advance guards of great armies, blustered in, brushed bare boards, nibbled and fanned, met nothing in bedroom or drawing-room that wholly resisted them but only hangings that flapped, wood that creaked, the bare legs of tables, saucepans and china already furred, tarnished, cracked. What people had shed and left – a pair of shoes, a shooting cap, some faded skirts and coats in wardrobes – those alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated; how how once hands were busy with hooks and buttons; how once the looking-glass had held a face; had held a world hollowed out in which a figure turned, a hand flashed, the door opened, in came children rushing and tumbling; and went out again. Now, day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its clear image on the wall opposite. Only the shadows of the trees, flourishing in the wind, made obeisance on the wall, and for a moment darkened the pool in which light reflected itself; or birds, flying, made a soft spot flutter slowly across the bedroom floor.


1 thought on “Review: To the Lighhouse, Virginia Woolf

  1. Pingback: 2015 Reading Challenge | Slightly Critical

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