Big Bad Woolf.

Some of my more regular readers might have noticed a lack of a Monday Morning Reset post this week; it’s been a bad week for time management so far, and, at this part, we’re so much closer to next Monday that I’m just taking a pass this week. And that’s okay, because one of the things I’m working on that I’m really getting a hold on is it not being the end of the world if my schedule has to be upended for a day or two. With a coworker on medical leave, I’m temporarily on full time right now, and it’s just throwing everything off. But that’s okay.

I’ve been wanting to talk about Virginia Woolf lately, anyway. Not too long ago, I finished Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (started in 2016, but not finished, thus relegating it to neither 2016 nor 2017 status). It was my first Woolf, and I went in blind except that it was on a list of books everyone should read somewhere, and I don’t really know much about Virginia Woolf. As an English major with a Creative Writing focus, I still baffle over how I managed to get through five years of higher education without being exposed to so many of the great, but I’m glad I’ve been able to rectify that with the benefit of luxury and enjoyment instead of academia and tests. This is the the sort of book I would have loved reading in school, though, because there’s so much there.

A little bit of mild research revealed that this was Woolf’s third novel and the first in which she really started to experiment with storytelling style, which is very clear, as it’s not told in a traditional way at all. I’ll admit, I was a little frustrated at parts, because the plot is very vague and we approach it in a really dizzying way, in little bits and pieces of observation that just flow from one to the other in an almost tangential way. But it’s all so beautifully written that I think most of my frustration was because I wanted more. I do love a story that doesn’t give you everything, that pokes at the reader’s imagination to start supplying how the pieces fit together, and this is definitely one of those kinds of books. That’s why I would love it in school. I feel like it’s a book that needs to be dissected. Take a scalpel to it, extract all the little threads of storylines, and examine them under a microscope. It’s a slim book; my copy ends at page 176. But there’s a world of hidden tales in those words that I hope I’m able to extract one day.

It’s a book that needs to be devoured and considered and explored beyond just one reading, but, even with just one reading, there are bits that stand out and stick to you and resonate strongly. There are beautifully wrought, poetic lines and descriptions, but also frank observations that say so damn much in so few words. My favorite, which has stuck with me from the moment it first slapped me in the face:

“And now Jimmy feeds crows and Helen visits hospitals.”

This follows a single paragraph about a woman relating a story about a man (Jimmy) refusing to marry a woman (Helen). It isn’t much about the people themselves, but rather the emotion and the scandal of it all. It doesn’t mention the war, but considering the context of the book, being written in the early 1920s, there’s no mistaking what that last line is telling us. And it tells us so succinctly, so brutally, without even saying the words. My heart just thrummed in my chest when I read that, and now it’s stuck in there forever. Jimmy dead on a battlefield while Helen, like an unsatisfied spirit, roaming hospital to hospital in search of him.

So much said with a single line, and this book is filled with lines that that which were probably completely missed. A book like this excites me. A book like this makes me wish I had more time to just sit and pick it apart and discover countless other stories hidden within these sparse 176 pages. I’m not sure if Woolf’s other books resonate in this fashion, but I’m eager to find out.

One comment

  1. I’ve never read Woolf. I’ve had such bad experiences trying to read books written in “previous times” that I hesitated to do it again. Although, I’m finally reading A Christmas Carol after seeing so many movies based on it. My husband asked me which version was most like the original story, and I realized I just didn’t know.

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