Book Review: To The Lighthouse By Virginia Woolf

To be honest, the name Virginia Woolf is quite intimidating to an amateur reader like me. Since I started reading classic books from the beginning of this year, I have been subconsciously avoiding Woolf’s work. One of the reasons: I was afraid I can’t understand her wordy book and will feel bad about myself (I do that sometimes). However, after tossing and turning (emotionally), I convinced myself to cave in and read the damn book.

To The Lighthouse is not your average classic. The words here are big and thoughtful, but it has a point. I have read several so-called “classic” books that have great prose but dense in meaning; To The Lighthouse is none like that. The fascinating matter here is not the choice of words Woolf used, but it’s her writing style. I must say that I have read nothing like hers in my life. Her genre is labelled as ‘stream of consciousness”, similar to Joyce (who is her biggest influence), but it’s slightly clean-cut if I may be so bold. I stumbled upon few difficulties in the beginning, but once I got the hang of it, my mind floats high and low like there is no tomorrow.

The story itself is pretty simple. We begins with Mrs Ramsay and her family. We follow her thoughts, her dreams, her desire and her life. We read what she thinks when she looks at her philosophical husband, her eight children and why she thinks marriage is important for women. However, we then come to an understanding that Mrs Ramsay, among her mere believes, cherish nothing but the simple moments in life. The climax scene is at the dinner party, where we see Mrs Ramsay together with her family and friends, chatting and enjoying each other companies. As she leaves the room, she turns her back and look at the scene before her and realized how the special minutes she spent are now a thing in the past. Yes, you can get sentimental and agitated by how dark her thought is, but isn’t she correct? Don’t we, at the end, only have memories to hold on to?

The second half of the book focuses on Lily Briscoe, a feminist painter who used to stay with Mrs Ramsay. Her character is rather complicated and ambiguous. I think I get what she meant at the end, but maybe I don’t. What I know for a fact is the social commentary Woolf directed on the fairer sex: Should you marry to make yourself happy? Will children bring you the utmost satisfaction in life? It’s easy to guess that Lily Briscoe is the character Woolf identified with and given the novel’s timeline, it’s impossible not to admire Virginia Woolf’s determination to speak up and pushed a different theory of feminism.

In just 209 pages (paperback), Virginia Woolf has managed to create a story so momentous yet simple at the same time. This proves what a talented writer she was and why she deserves all the praises she received. To The Lighthouse is not a feel-good book in any sense, since it dealt with pain, grief, hate and death. Even Woolf herself described it as an “elegy”, which means a mournful poem or a lament for the dead. Albeit its morose description, I can’t help but feel good about my life after reading this book and that should mean something.

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