Stream of consciousness. Experimental. MENTAL. We spend all our time in these characters heads. Though they interact with each other, we are never privy to their actual conversations, the exchanges of words. We have to discern what they are doing based on what they are thinking. At least, that's what I've decided is happening. Also, nothing happens. I mean, stuff happens, but it is difficult to engage with a plot when we are never there, in the outside world, just in the character's minds.
The whole time I was reading The Waves I kept thinking, I would enjoy this more if I listened to it. I think The Waves might be better as an audiobook, not that I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Actually, I've only listened to one, just to see if I'd like them. It was Pride and Prejudice and I'd already read it, so I knew what was going to happen. The flow of The Waves, the lyricism of the words, made me feel as though I would enjoy listening to it. The characters, never speak to each other, they only speak to you.
I knew - sort of - what was going to happen in The Waves. This was my second reading, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I didn't really remember it. I wondered why. Now I know. Nothing happens. As I said, we are so much in the heads of the characters, that we don't really experience them doing anything, I don't feel like there is really a plot to engage with. They all just live their lives and have feelings about them.
The Waves is called Virginia Woolf's most experimental piece of fiction. I can see why it would be called such. I have read many of Woolf's novels. Though To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway are "stream of consciousness", they are not like The Waves. The Waves exists almost on its own.
The book starts out with six friends in childhood, all living together somewhere. They stay connected, though not physically, but mentally and emotionally for their entire lives. Eventually, the boys go to an all-boys school and the girls go to their own school - I think, they are definitely separated during this time, but the girls know Percival and they adore and admire him as much as the boys do. Percival is the "silent" seventh character, who (spoiler*) dies midway through the novel. He is missed throughout the second half of the book, as the characters have him up on a pedestal, a young man who died in his prime, on an adventure.
Though we stay inside the character's minds through the book, they each have a distinct voice. I could tell which character I was with, just based on the way they spoke (soliloquized) and what they were talking about. They each had their own wants, worries, and opinions. I found it fitting that the novel ended with Bernard. He was the storyteller. He was always searching for words. Through him, I think the reader learns the most about what is happening in the lives of the characters.
Though it did take me a long time to read a short book, I'm glad I did. It was one of the most beautifully written pieces of fiction I've ever read. Many times I found myself thinking that The Waves was actually a very long poem. Every word felt carefully chosen, every phrase was eloquent. It is one of the reasons I think it would be better to listen to The Waves; hearing the words might enhance the experience. I think one day, though not anytime soon, I'll find myself with the urge to listen to Woolf's most experimental work.
* I'm not sure about the spoiler warning. I mean, it's a classic Virginia Woolf book and I'm pretty sure Percival's death is in the synopsis on some editions.
On a side note, I recently came across a post on The Guardian's book blog all about Virginia Woolf, her work and her death. Honestly, I know how Woolf died, but I don't typically think about that when I read her work. It's an interesting post.
Also, 20/60 for my classics list.