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Eating Up “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is just a really long, complicated poem. By which I mean, I didn’t completely understand it, but it sounded really nice.

It follows six friends through their lives, from childhood until death, and is narrated by each of them in turn, in strange, trance-like streams of subconsciousness. These streams of sub-consciousness are told entirely using direct dialogue that does not seem as though it is actually being spoken. Breaking up chunks of this ‘dialogue’ are chunks of narration that describe the scenery, the waves and the sun on its journey through the sky, which mirrors our heroes’ and heroines’ journeys through life.

The words and sentences ebb and flow together like the streams of consciousness that Woolf alters between. But where waves can be messy, her tight prose weaved seamlessly together like the cotton threads in a gauzy, flowing scarf.

But, to write up another comparison, my experience with the book was kind of the opposite of how one views a pointillist painting. From far away, seeing it as a whole, it becomes a blur of metaphors and symbols that I can’t grasp. But up close, in one little sentence at the top of a page, a phrase a few paragraphs down, an excerpt later on, I bit into delicious morsels of truth.

Obviously there was a whole feast of truths and ideas, covered in brilliance sauce. But, for a little not-yet-an-English-major like me, the morsels were all I could get at. All I could appreciate. They were sweet champagne, bubbling over in seductive flutes, that anyone might sip. The rest was a deep red wine with notes of this and that, which my inexperienced palate couldn’t yet detect.

But I’m learning that that’s okay. I’m young, I don’t have to know and understand and appreciate every nuance in every piece of literature I read. I can take and enjoy my morsels and come back for a second plate of more substantial dishes later. Because the sumptuous spreads laid out in books never spoil. And you can come back later for seconds and thirds and even fourths. And what you gain from this kind of face-stuffing goes to your brain not your hips.

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