"The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it." But the waves is the whole damn point.
Six characters, three boys and girls, are revealed to us using the formula of a direct quotation and then 'said Bernard' or 'said Susan'. Always 'said' although these are their thoughts. Their very first statements are descriptions of what they see and hear: rings, slabs of yellow; these are soon turned into objects perceived. Shortly Louis hides from his friends and Jinny finds him and kisses him and Susan sees and is angry. Bernard begins to tell stories; Rhoda wants to be Jinny or Susan; Neville (I wonder whether Mr Neville in Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac is named after him?) becomes religious, Bernard develops a crush on another boy; Susan hates boarding school and counts the days until she is allowed home.
This is poetry dressed up as prose. It is very hard to read. I need to spend many more days reading it very slowly: there are some books which are meant to be read fast and loose and dome which you are meant to study line by line. But I read this book fast and loose for a first impression and, despite the density of the imagery and the difficulty I found on getting a good grip on the individual life stories, I gained a surprising amount. This is like glancing at an impressionist painting: you see the sea and the sky and the trees, you feel the moving of the wind, yet you know that a careful scrutiny will yield dividends. But on a first, furious reading I got an impression of every character and how they developed differently from the others. I understood some (I doubt all) of the things they did and the things that happened to them: who got married, what their jobs were (still no idea about Neville), who had children. Almost the best bit of the book was Perceval. They (at least some of them) had been at school with Perceval. He is the sort that everyone admires. As they approach 25 they hold a dinner to which he comes (late) to celebrate his departure for India. Shortly after, they hear the shocking news of his death. This affects each one of them in different ways; they remember him for the rest of their lives; it is a bit like remembering the day when Kennedy/ Elvis/ John Lennon/ David Bowie (choose your generation) died. In many ways the book is about Perceval and yet he is the one who doesn't appear on stage.
Some moments of liminality:
"we have invented devices for filling up the crevices and disguising these fissures."
Some moments of unintended self-parody:
"The only people in the streets are poor people hurrying."
I was overwhelmed by the brilliance of Woolf's To the Lighthouse. The Waves is a stunningly good book but, being so much more difficult to read, cannot have had as much impact. But I must read it again.
July 2016; 256 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57