Why have I reacted so differently to this novel now from the way I reacted when I first read it at the age of eighteen, more than thirty-five years ago? Then, it bored me. Now it’s moved me almost to tears and it will haunt me. I assume that my very different reactions can be put down to the passage of time and the vicissitudes of life. As a young woman of eighteen I had had some painful experiences, but I had not yet been required to make choices about my future, I had not navigated the sometimes troubled waters of parenthood, I had not had silent conversations with my husband across a dinner table, I had not experienced life-changing loss and grief.
For me, this is a work about communication and about relationships. It’s about the spaces that exist between people – the gaps between speaking and understanding - and about the ways in which people are sometimes able to bridge those gaps. It’s about relationships between husbands and wives and between parents and children. It’s also about making choices in life, about the creative process, about the passage of time and about memory. Part of the beauty of Woolf’s writing is that the lighthouse beam she shines into the minds and thoughts of her characters also shines into the minds and thoughts of her readers, illuminating half-forgotten memories, allowing them to recognise the connections between their own experience and that of the characters.
At the age of eighteen I didn’t cope very well with stream of consciousness. I wanted a narrator. First person or third person, either was fine, but I wanted to be clear about what was happening and I didn’t want to search for meaning. I’m more relaxed about alternative ways of telling a story now, so I feel that I’ve come back to Virginia Woolf at just the right time to appreciate the depth of her vision and the genius of her writing.
I listened to an audiobook edition of the novel narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who is, as always, superb. In her voice, I hear every nuance of emotion that Woolf put into her prose. I would listen to Stevenson read the bus timetable, so listening to her read such magnficient writing is a treat indeed.