My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The plot of this novel is very simple: a large family is staying at their summer home (which has a view of a lighthouse) with several friends; then many years pass during which a World War occurs and the family doesn't visit the house; then some of the people from the first summer come back to the house and take a boat out to the lighthouse. However, woven into this little bit of action are the thoughts and feelings of all the people involved: the little routines of daily life, the great life-changing events, and the philosophical musings of quiet moments are intermingled.
The same technique of passing the narration from the mind of one character to the next that is used in Mrs. Dalloway is used here. This works very well because the reader can follow the change of perspective easily and it gives a much greater depth to the work than would be possible with a single point of view. There are many points in the book where I had to stop and consider the observation, to fit it into my own context. Woolf apparently expected this:
"But he was absorbed in it, so that when he looked up, as he did now for an instant, it was not to see anything; it was to pin down some thought more exactly. That done, his mind flew back again and he plunged into his reading." (p.283)
The book is constructed in three parts (like movements in a piece of music). The first one is the longest and introduces the reader to the various characters and their connections with each other. The middle section is an amazing piece of writing, almost like poetry, that describes the passing of time and into which a few plot points are inserted parenthetically.
"But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers." (p.192)The final section goes back to the style of the first and shows us how the passage of time has changed the people we met in part one.
This book is different from Mrs. Dalloway in that it is looking at the world through a wider lens, but it is just as powerful and brilliant a book. Well worth reading, and rereading.
- A review from the NY Times (written in 1925 and full of SPOILERS -- I agree with him about the middle section, I'm not sure about the overall conclusions.)
- Helen Dunmore’s introduction to a new edition (2011) reprinted in Granta (an analysis of the text beginning from the premise that it is autobiographical -- I have doubts about this interpretation, but it is an interesting perspective.)