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This is not a book you can plunge into without knowing what to expect – if you love a good story, with a fast-paced plot, you’ll probably hate this book. This is far more a marriage of philosophy and fiction, full of flowing thoughts of the characters, their emotions spilled all over the internal monologues.
It’s unfair to give this book a simple synopsis, but here it is: To the Lighthouse is about the Ramsays, their eight children and a few friends staying over the Isle of Skye one Summer, and then the book progresses for 10 years, examining the relationship between the characters. Still, I suggest you read it if you love thoughtful, philosophical explorations of the experience of those characters, how they deal with loss, love, marriage, society expectations and so on. For the plot itself it’s hard to recommend the book.
When compared to Mrs. Dalloway, the narrative of To the Lighthouse is more beautiful, a study of identity and relationships, of expectations and emotions, with much less of a plot (really!). It’s a book to immerse yourself to, to forget the world around you and lose yourself in words and thoughts. Still, I might have enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway a bit more, I’m not sure yet – the themes of Mrs. Dalloway and some of the characters were more interesting. I would have liked this book more if I’d read it earlier in my life, and also if I’d read it in a physical book instead of listening to it in audiobook. As it was, I was keenly aware by how not-universal those thoughts and experiences of the characters were, how superficial and boring some were (not because of Woolf’s ability to create characters, but, I suppose, because of how early 20th century British privileged people were and behaved and lived).
My favorite parts about To the Lighthouse is the different approaches of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay about exactness in expressing oneself versus hyperbole. It was very interesting. Also the different impressions that men and women have of each other, how they misunderstand each other, the complex dance of politeness and society (which I hate, but it’s interesting to read about).
So, if this is one of your first classics and you’re trying to get into the genre and wanted to read a classic book written by a woman, I suggest you try Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë instead. But – if you like the particular meditative writing of Woolf, this is a beautiful novel and you’ll come out of reading it still immersed in the world she weaves. The quiet depth of this story will stick to your skin for weeks.