When I was in my 20s I read To the Lighthouse and didn't like it very much. I don't remember much about the experience, but it put me off reading stream of consciousness novels in general and Virginia Woolf in particular. More recently I've been trying to overcome some of my early literary prejudices, often by listening to audiobook versions of books I'm not convinced I'll like, preferably read by a narrator I love. Whether age has changed my literary tastes or simply made me more patient, this has generally been a positive experience.
Juliet Stevenson is one of those narrators I love. I've loved her acting ever since watching the amazing opening scene of Truly Madly Deeply and I've loved listening to her narrating audiobooks. Luckily, Stevenson has narrated lots of audiobooks which I want to read. Furthermore, there's something about this novel which makes listening to it rather than reading it particularly enjoyable. It makes it easier, I think, to appreciate the rhythms of the language.
The novel is set in London in the summer of 1923, on the day on which Clarissa Dalloway gives a party. As Clarissa prepares for the party, she contemplates her life and her relationships. Running parallel to her story is that of Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran caught in the throes of psychosis. The narrative moves from dialogue to internal monologue to soliloquy and is told mostly (but far from exclusively) from the point of view of Clarissa and Septimus - whose lives intersect although they never meet.
This is an amazing achievement. I loved that the seemingly random shifts in point of view are in fact strictly contained within a structure set by the geography of the streets of London and the sound of bells tolling the time of day. I was devastated by the painfully accurate description of Septimus' psychotic state. I was swept away by the lyrical quality of the language.
I had to listen carefully to make sure that my own internal monologue didn't make me miss one of the many transitions in point of view. Overall, this was a great experience. Next time I go to London, I plan to have my own Clarissa Dalloway experience, walking through the streets and remembering what happened on that day in 1923 when Clarissa gave a party.