Goodreads: To the Lighthouse
The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.
As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph—the human capacity for change.
To the Lighthouse is, on the surface, a book not about much: it shows scenes from the lives of the Ramsay family and the impressions of some of their friends who stay at the house, yet without a central plot. However skeptical I was of this at the beginning, I came to appreciate the stream of consciousness and Woolf’s occasional keen insights into human nature and the thoughts that crossed her characters’ minds.
As someone who has studiously avoided any stream of consciousness literature up to this point, I’ve never encountered a book before that represents thinking how it so frequently occurs– that is, people often are thinking about things that have nothing to do with the scene in front of them or the actions they are taking. One might be sitting at dinner but actually randomly remembering something that happened 10 years ago. One might be playing with a small child but actually planning out one’s novel. Woolf captures this excellently.
The thoughts of Woolf’s characters are, of course, not entirely random, and her ability to touch on things like emotional labor and the mental load and how women relate to men also is impressive. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay sporadically thinks about the cost of repairing the greenhouse and how she must remember to bring it up with her husband. This could seem like a boring thing for her to think and a weird detail for Woolf to include– and I probably would have thought this myself about this book if I’d read it at a younger age. Now, however, I can appreciate that randomly intruding thoughts about mundane things are common for people trying to run a household– Oh, we need more milk. Remember to buy milk, Put milk on the list…. Tellingly, these thoughts tend to occur to the female characters in To the Lighthouse. The men are all too busy thinking about their great works, whether poetry or academic, to be bothered with such things.
To be fair, I think one book of this type is enough for me. Since the appeal is really the structure of the book, how Woolf captures thought and sometimes interesting human relations, and not any real plot, I don’t think I’d get much out of reading a second book of this type unless it had a bit more action going on. But for one time I definitely found it interesting, and I’m a bit sorry I put off reading anything by Woolf for so long.