Wednesday, August 25, 2010

#15 - "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf

I finished To the Lighthouse today.  It's the third shortest book I've read so far, but took almost twice as long as any other.  I blame summer weather, golf courses, the Stampede and beer on patios.  The real reason it took so long however, was a combination of the aformentioned things and that I really didn't like it.

The problem I had with this novel is the style in which it was written.  Instead of describing actions or using dialogue, most of the book consists of describing different characters' thoughts and emotions.  The book also jumps from one character to another, making it very difficult to follow.  One review I found even said that plot was secondary to philosophical introspection.  I don't even know what that means, other than I'm not going to like it.  How am I supposed to follow a book that doesn't really have a plot, or even any descriptions for that matter.

Throughout the entire novel, I never really had a feel for any of the characters or settings and was unable to picture them in my mind.  I guess the good thing is, if I ever see the movie, I won't be dissapointed with the casting.  "That actor filled the blank face I had in my mind perfectly!" I'll exclaim leaving the theatre, or more likely from the couch.

The plot, a term I use very loosely, centered around a family's desire to visit a lighthouse in Scotland in 1910, and then their actual visit to the same lighthouse in 1920; after half the family had died.  I don't know if lighthouses were a lot bigger attraction a hundred years ago, but I don't see myself itching to visit one for ten years.  Anyway, a bunch of stuff happens in the middle, or rather nothing happens, but all the characters think about how nothing happened.  They all seem to wonder why they couldn't have visited the lighthouse ten years earlier.  Of course, they could hvae, as the trip only involves a thirty minute boat ride, but they didn't because the father thought it might rain.  That's really the reason they didn't go.  I'm not kidding.  But after ten years, the remaining family members were able to risk rain, and visit the lighthouse.  The book however ends just as they arrive, so we never even find out what's so great about the goddamn thing.

I have to wonder what's wrong with me.  This book received high praise from Time Magazine when it was first released in 1927, and again when The List was put together.  Perhaps I'll mature, with regards to literature, as I continue reading the list, but again, I didn't like this book.  Only Naked Lunch surpassed it in...un-readability.

I visited the library today, and picked up two more books, I, Claudius and Lucky Jim.  Both continue my trend of not knowing anything about the book before I read it.  I, Claudius was mentioned in a episode of "Cheers" I saw recently though, as Frasier exclaimed "We can go upstairs, I have all twelve episodes of I, Claudius on tape!", much to Sam's chagrin.  I like to think that I have more sophisticated reading tastes than Sam Malone, but only time will tell.

As for fines, it turns out I incurred $1.05 on both To the Lighthouse and The Power and the Glory.  That brings my fine total to $5.90.  And if you were wondering, I returned both those books today, which means I've been renewing Power all this time, even though I finished reading it almost two months ago.  It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I wanted to conserve fuel, and not drive to the library twice.  Let's go with that.

You can read the original Time Magazine review from May 30, 1927 right here.


  1. I just finished up "To the Lighthouse" today. It was my 20th book on the same journey to read all 100 books on the list. I have to agree it was hard to read. I think a large part of the book that you didn't mention is the struggle of women and voicing their opinions and having confidence in themselves in that time period. I felt that the painting by Lily Briscoe was a metaphor for her ability to be able to have confidence in herself in social situations. I think completing the painting at the end was a victory for that character and helped her become more confident in herself in daily life.
    There were many times that I had to re-read or go back a few pages to figure out which character was thinking a thought versus saying something. It definitely wasn't my favorite but I appreciated the subtlety and emotional aspect of the text.

  2. To the Lighthouse is a difficult one for me, as so many seem to appreciate it so much, and a got so little from it. It is one that I would consider revisiting down the road though, as much as I disliked it the first time.