“The Waves” by Virginia Woolf is a book that is unlike any novel that I’ve read before. And it’s certainly not a light or easy read.
The book follows six characters (Rhoda, Ginny, Susan, Neville, Bernard and Louis) from their early childhood to late adulthood. “The Waves” is written almost exclusively in soliloquies which means that the six main characters are narrating their stories in a mologue-esque way which makes it sometimes hard to follow because as readers we don’t get the facts or information we usually expect in a novel.
However, this narrative style also gives the six a lot of life and personality as we perceive their ideas, impressions and emotions. Each of them has their own unique perspective on the world, the others and themselves and often these views contradict one another. This creates a very interesting narrative in which each character has their own unique personality yet all of them seem fluid and interconnected.
Although the novel’s style is unlike anything I read before the themes of identity, self-knowledge and the perceptions one has of other people reminded me of the first two novels I read by Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway & Orlando). And as in the previous two “The Waves” also has its own take on time and how it passes.
I liked getting to know the characters bit by bit throughout the novel although it sometimes frustrated me that I didn’t get all the information I longed for. And as in “Orlando” Woolf also used problematic terms again in this book.
The writing of “The Waves” was quite challenging for me. Woolf’s style is alway rich and complex which also makes it so beautiful but in combination with the soliloquies it got even harder to read. I seriously doubted my ability to grasp the meaning, subtext and complexity of her words. This also made me wonder: If I already feel this way as a person who has a degree in literature and took an entire class on Virginia Woolf, how do other readers feel when reading this book?
“The Waves” certainly is a really challenging read for which you need time, patience and a lot of endurance. If I didn’t have to read it for class, I doubt that I would have finished it due to its demanding nature. Still I am happy that I made it through because it’s not only unique but also quite good despite the fact that it constantly made me feel like I’m too stupid for Woolf’s complex and poetic writing.
Trigger Warning: Use of racist words