The thing about Virginia Woolf is that I’ve always found her works very interesting—her prose and her technique in writing specifically—yet I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re thoroughly pleasurable to read. The Waves wasn’t an exception to that, still I enjoyed analyzing it.
The novel introduces six characters (Bernard, Neville, Louis, Jinny, Susan, and Rhoda) and follows them and their individual lives as they grow up and experience friendship, love, and eventually, grief as they grapple with the death of their beloved friend, Percival.
Immediately after finishing this book I was ready to give it three stars because I liked it very much, but wouldn’t call it a favorite. Now to start off—The Waves is basically your typical Woolf novel that uses her signature stream of consciousness technique in terms of writing. It’s lyrical and poetic, but for readers who are a total stranger to her works, it can get a little confusing at first. Personally, I’ve read some of her books and essays prior to this one so I sort of knew what I was going into, and it’s exactly what I expected. Some parts were a little challenging to get through, but some flowed very naturally—and specific sections that can be categorized as the latter kind were my favorites.
Essentially, there isn’t a concrete plot to expect in this novel. You won’t find a single proper dialogue in it either. But it is structured in a way that the reader gets to understand each of the character’s nature of thought through interior soliloquies—which can sometimes be a highly visual reading experience so long as you religiously get to follow along.
Metaphorically speaking, I thought that the novel serves not only as a direct metaphor to life in general, but also to identity; sometimes even the lack thereof. The uniformity in their voices exists to show that the six of them are merely individual parts of a whole, suggesting the formation of identity—however there’s also that sense of incompleteness in their respective soliloquies, possibly to indicate the fact that they are made up of one another, creating the idea of a “bigger picture”.
The quality of routine and repetition in the narrative, that almost entirely patterns itself based on the rhythm of the waves, aligns the story with the wave-motion that is the nature of life. The habitual motion of time and day as well as the progression of weeks weave the characters as ever-flowing arrays of experience mentally traversing time and space. This basically creates the general idea of life in a series of “waves”, or at least how the concept of the novel presented itself to me upon reading it.
Overall, The Waves by Virginia Woolf is an extremely brilliant novel with excellent structure. It has everything: life, love, grief, nostalgia, death, and a great sense of loss. The Waves drives us out from the shore to the middle of absolutely nowhere, until it seems like we’re lost but not quite yet, clinging to the elegance of the prose for direction and sheer survival. Soon, the waves are bound to come steering again—better head on back to the shore.