I believe today is the final day of the wonderfully hosted Woolf in Winter challenge. Though I won’t be joining in with a discussion on The Waves because frankly I am still too wary of Woolf and anything too big I have gone on another rogue Woolfish path as I did with Flush and read a collection of her short stories instead which I managed to get from the library a while ago. I have decided I am going to take Orlando or The Waves away with me in May when I go away for a week somewhere sunny.
From the title I thought that ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ was in fact some diaries of Virginia Woolf and so picked it up in the hope that after our bumpy relationship so far I might get to know her a little better. As I found out it is a collection of five of her earliest short works ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’, ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’, ‘A Dialogue Upon Mount Penetelicus’ and ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’. Interestingly I did get to know more about Virginia through these works, what interested her from a younger age, her feelings on women and the way they have been treated and some of her passions. She also really took me on a journey of emotions with this work there is melancholic (which I was sort of expecting) to a degree and it was thought provoking but lacked some of the despair of her later writings I have encountered. She also made me have a few giggles and several wry smiles.
The two tales that most interlinked for me were ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ and ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ as they look at the history of marriage and women though they are to very different tales. The first is of two sisters born and bred purley to marry in the year 1906. They have no other skills apart from helping their mother (which neither really enjoys) and learning how to be a good wife and run a household and what’s more they both know it, and so looks at how life like that must have been. The latter of these two tales didn’t start the way I thought it would and actually became a tale within a tale all done in merely 40 pages. Miss Rosamond Merridew (not the Rosamond of the aforementioned tale) is a keen historian and one day comes across a forgotten manor house and pays a call to investigate meeting the inhabitants and eventually getting her hands on the diary of one of their ancestors, Joan Martyn, a young lady in the 1400’s on the cusp of marriage, in fact rather late to marriage it appears. Both of these stories I enjoyed, the latter particularly for the off beaten setting and premise of a house and diary filled with history and mystery.
The title tale ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ also seemed to be the tales of two women told at the same time, so two parallel stories if you will. Woolf wonderfully interweaves the tale of a fiction writer Miss Willatt and also of her later biographer Miss Linsett. So much detail and almost factual writing was in this I had to google to check that these people didn’t once really exist. I also thought the ending of this tale was quite remarkable in a slightly melancholic way, I will say no more. I could definitely see shades of ‘Flush’ in this story though.
‘A Dialogue upon Mount Penetelicus’ I didn’t really get, the story is just what it says it is as British tourists climb and descend the Greek mountain. It had a feel of her multiple switching narratives of Mrs Dalloway and found, despite it only being ten pages long, I didn’t know quite where I was and didn’t want to read it a second time to find out.
The final tale, though actually the second in the book, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’ utterly blew me away. It is only three pages long yet out of the whole collection it has stuck with me and even thinking about it now brings forth some emotions very quickly. I don’t want to really say anything for fear I would give something away and ruin it for anyone who dashes off to read it (highly advisable). I shall simply say it’s the tale of an unmarried woman. I was amazed three pages could have such an effect on me.
So overall this is a great short story collection and another case of me having the grumps at giving it back to the library. It’s left me with a definite feeling that there is hope for me and Ginny after all and even though we will have a break for a few months I am looking forward to getting to know her better on holiday later in the year.
You might just be wondering why on earth after my poor success with both ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘To The Lighthouse’ today I am once more writing about Virginia Woolf. While a lot of bloggers will be talking about ‘Orlando’ over here I decided that I would do something a little different and yet still in keeping with ‘Woolf in Winter’ by reading ‘Flush’ and trying once again to see if I can get to grips with good old Ginny.
The premise of Flush in many ways I thought would mean that it really wouldn’t work for me. First of all it’s a biography and second of all the subject of the biography is indeed a dog called Flush. Though this is quite an important dog who originally belonging to the writer Mary Mitford (not of the famous Mitford’s, well I don’t think so) and then to the writer Elizabeth Barrett Browning when Mary was poor and Elizabeth was sick. This could have possibly been an utter write off and Ginny and I could have parted ways forever.
Odd then that I really, really enjoyed this book isn’t it? From the very opening paragraphs that take us through the history of the spaniel, which could have easily been a dull read but in some ways became a mini-historical adventure, I was enjoying myself and I hadn’t even met the delightful main character yet. Flush is a wonderful character indeed, he is one of life’s enthusiasts, a bit of a rogue (he is a father before you could even credit it), loyally to the point of fearlessly protective and in his own way very democratic. The fact that he almost becomes human though always clearly a dog is a credit to Woolf and her writing (which I have previously admired though never really ‘got’).
This isn’t just a book about a delightful dog though. Through her subject and using extracts of letters from Mitford and Barrett Browning we see parts of the lives, though in the main the latter, of two wonderful writers. You gain insights into the lives of a Victorian country woman with no money forced to sell her precious pooch and then get whisked into the world of a bed ridden well to do woman on the cusp of love which proves a life changing event for both herself and her beloved dog. (The scenes between Flush and Elizabeth’s suitor are wonderfully written.) Flush is of course the star of this tale and rightly so as clearly both of his mistresses loved him dearly and I dare say any reader of this book will become an instant fan of Flush too.
Though I don’t think I am ready for ‘The Waves’ in two weeks time, I am now much more positive about future Woolf reading and have another Woolf read lined up for a fortnight instead. I am pleased I gave her another shot and just goes to show why even after two books you should never write a writer off!
If you have been reading ‘Orlando’ then do pop over here to where the discussion is going on. First though have you any other Woolf books that are slightly off the well beaten Woolf-ish track? Which authors have you tried and failed with and then tried and fallen in love a little with (their writing rather than the author ha, ha)? Have you read Flush?
So in a sort of “ying and yang” double set of posting today I thought my second should be an opposite-ish response. So I am popping this picture up (of two bookish piles) and also a list of some books that have come through the letter box (none have broken my book buying ban, though the parcels may have broken the postman)in the last week. It’s like a tonic post after the above ‘Book Riddance’ really. As I have waffled on a lot in the other post today (which I hope you have commented on) I will keep this as a brief list of what’s come in, no waffling not that there is anything wrong with a good waffle about books…
Two Delightful Bookish Piles
Book Pile A
- The Boat – Nam Le
- Flush – Virginia Woolf
- Chaos – Edmund White
- The Given Day – Denis Lehane
- Orlando – Virginia Woolf
- Instruments of Darkness – Imogen Robertson
- The Waves – Virginia Woolf
- The Aviary Gate – Kate Hickman
- The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
- The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah
- The Piviledges – Jonathan Dee
- Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri
Book Pile B
- The Ice Palace – Tarjei Vesaas
- The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilina
- The Maintenance of Headway – Magnus Mills
- Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
- In Great Waters – Kim Whitfield
- The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell
- American Adulterer – Jed Mercurio
- Major Farran’s Hat: Murder, Scandal and Britain’s War Against Jewish Terrorism 1945-1948 – David Cesarani
- Ruth Maier’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Life Under Nazism – Ruth Maier
- Lost World – Patricia Melo
- Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie De La Tour Du Pin and the French Revolution – Caroline Moorehead
As ever let me know if you have read any of these and what you thought. Or if you have read other works of any of these authors, or indeed have heard anyone else saying things about these books? For example I know another blogger who raved about The Ice Palace and Books on the Nightstand’s Ann Kingman has been raving about Lark & Termite for some time. Over to you and yours…
So it was a fortnight ago that I thought I was about to commit a sacrilegious act here on Savidge Reads by admitting that I wasn’t a great fan of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and that whilst I had respect for Woolf’s delightful London imagery and prose I wasn’t a fan of the book. I did say I would carry on with the ‘Woolf in Winter’ which I signed up for last year and use ‘To The Lighthouse’ as a second attempt to get along better with Ginny, would it work?
When ‘To The Lighthouse’ opens we join James Ramsey and his parents as they discuss the likelihood of visiting the nearby lighthouse the following day. Mrs Ramsey tries to pacify her son by saying that they can ‘if the weather is fine’ however Mr Ramsey is pessimistic and almost cruel in telling his son that ‘it won’t be fine’ somehow this initial chapter both sets the tone for the rest of the book. In fact really it sets the scene for the rest of the book where in three parts we see what becomes of the Ramsey family before and after World War I and why many years later they make that journey back to the lighthouse in question.
I found the way this book was written was quite incredible. The first part of the book sets the scene and tone of the rest of it, as I mentioned before whilst introducing all the characters. The second part I found an incredible piece of technically skilled writing as Woolf manages to encompass a decade of a family’s life including an event that rocks the family during the war torn years of World War I (Woolf called this writing a H, with two parts of a story and a corridor in the middle). The thing is I am not sure a book can live by prose alone in some books (see Home by Marilynne Robinson) and I found myself meandering mentally away during this book and then having to re-read a page or two.
I will say that I generally gelled with this book much better than I did with Mrs Dalloway. I seemed to care more about the characters in this novel and wanted to know more about them from the start. I think having had the previous Woolf experience of her writing through streams of consciousness I was also more open to the writing style and enjoyed this novel the more for it. I am not sure how this novel would be received by someone new to Woolf. This post is probably a slightly rambling and confused set of book thoughts, I think that is simply how Woolf leaves me. Stunning prose but, but… I don’t know quite what the but is but there is one and its making reading Woolf more of a chore than a pleasure.
So what does this mean for me and ‘Woolf in Winter’? At the moment I am a bit 50/50. I loved the idea of this read-a-long as I felt like I had support out there; sadly though I am also worried reading Woolf every two weeks for the two books could endanger me from being put off for life. I think what might be best is to have ‘Orlando’ on the bedside and the selection of short from the library loot the other day and see if they spark any interest. If they do marvellous, if they don’t well that’s fine too. Does that sound like a complete cop out? Do pop over to the wonderful Emily who is hosting today!
How did you all get on with ‘To The Lighthouse’? Do let me know as your thoughts after ‘Mrs Dalloway’ invigorated me for the next Woolf challenge and may again. I am sure lots of you will have lots of insight into this book that might push it from 3 stars (Mrs Dalloway would have had 2.5, so it’s a step forward) to 3.5, ha. So go for it, what did you think?
I was unsure how to use the library with my book buying ban as it doesn’t really stick to my ‘reading through the books I own’ goal. However after some thought I decided that not only would this be helpful for book group choices if I didn’t own them, it also promotes libraries and that is also a good thing. I can only take out a certain number of books out at a time and read them all by the time they are due back. So what books did I get from the library, just a select five;
The Finishing School – Muriel Spark
Myself and Novel Insights have been plotting a little Spark-ish something for the spring and so I am hoarding up as many Sparks as I can just for that, more on that in due course.
Memories of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf
Though my initial reading experience may not have been a favourite book of mine there is no denying that Woolf is an amazing writer and so I thought I would give this selection of short stories a whirl, and they are Hesperus Press what more could you want?
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
I can’t work out if I actually want to read this or if its like bloggers peer pressure and because I have seen so many of you raving about it a book I wouldn’t normally be interested in has been niggling at me for a read, it was this or Eclipse so I thought I would try this out. I didn’t get the sequel as have heard it’s not great. We will see how I get on with this I don’t want to read it when am not in just the right mood.
After Dark – Haruki Murakami
After loving my second journey into the fictional world of Murakami I spied this on the shelves and decided that I couldn’t not. Its one of his most recent and also its one of his shortest so thought would give it a whirl. I have some of his here but isn’t it funny how when you own an authors work it’s the other ones you want to read?
The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
I have seen a few bloggers mentioning this and I feel it could be on the Orange list, I have no reason for that at all I just do, I think this will be getting a lot more attention when it comes out in paper back it also sounds quite fascinating and slightly provocative with its tale of a high school sex scandal which is then put on as a play in schools.
So that’s my lot from the library. I should add that you should be extremely proud of me as my visit to the library proved to be very tempting. Not because I could have come away with many more loans but because of this…
A Bloody Book Sale
Typical isn’t it? I go somewhere which I deem ‘book binge safe’ and there is a huge table or three of 10p and 20p bargains. I did have a browse and you would be even more impressed as some of the titles were very me, but I walked away with nothing so I have survived my first big temptation and feel quite pleased. I will add that I didn’t dare walk in any second hand shops on the way or on the way back though, they don’t have library stickers or those crinkly see through covers on.
One of my resolutions this year was that I wouldn’t join any challenges. I had however already signed up to taking part with ‘Woolf in Winter’ before 2009 ended. I joined as I had never read any Virginia Woolf before and yet owned a lot of her works, which actually works with my resolutions this year to get through more of the books I have owned for ages too. So how would my first journey into the world of Virginia Woolf with ‘Mrs Dalloway’ be, would I want to read more Woolf afterwards?
‘Mrs Dalloway’ is the story of a single day in London through the eyes of several people. I know all the synopses say that it’s just through one woman but actually there are three main characters, or I felt there were. For Clarissa Dalloway wife of the Prime Minister it is a very important day as she is throwing a party. Peter Walsh has just arrived back from India and has decided to visit Clarissa the woman he was once deeply enamoured with. The other character is Septimus who passes both Peter and Clarissa in the morning in separate spots after having announced to his wife he wants to kill himself. Through these three people we see how one day can differ so much for three separate people.
Also Virginia Woolf takes us into the minds of people that these three characters pass by. So what you get is one day with three main tales that intertwine and then random thoughts as they pass. To write like this in such a short book is quite some feat and I think it’s remarkably done. However respecting that someone has written something clever, unusual and interesting doesn’t mean that I actually liked the book and sadly I wasn’t a huge fan. I found all of the characters bar Septimus quite dull and one dimensional. I did find the passages about Septimus and the way his mind was working utterly fascinating and that and Clarissa looking back on her past and the love she felt for Sally Seton which again was written perfectly. Bar that slightly interesting point I found Clarissa needed a bit of a ‘good wake up shake’ and really I would have liked to have sympathised with her instead of just thinking ‘get a grip’. I am sure I will be outraging many Woolfites saying that, but it’s the truth.
Oddly this hasn’t put me off Woolf at all as I did find her writing wonderful and the way she described London was really atmospheric so I felt like I was with the characters even if I didn’t care for them. It was just that as an all-round book I ended up feeling very 50/50 about it and I don’t really like it when that happens. To the future though, I am looking forward to reading The Lighthouse in a few weeks and seeing just how that pans out. You can see a discussion about this book on Sarah’s blog later today should you wish to pop by.
Have I committed some kind of sacrilege by saying that? What are your thoughts on this novel? What are your thoughts on Virginia Woolf and which ones would you most recommend?
I am pleased to note both my mother (an avid book reader and Classics and English teacher) and the infamous Granny Savidge Reads aren’t great fans of this book but do love ‘To The Lighthouse’ and ‘Orlando’.