The Summer Home On Isle of Skye

I have been wary of Virginia Woolf for some time. I read Orlando at a very young age and did not like it one bit and since then have been very anxious about any Woolf related works. Though how I could possibly be attempting to read classics, especially Classics written by Women (Women’s Classics Literature Reading Event) without reading Woolf was something I often wondered about and finally Ali came to my rescue with her #WoolfAlong. Now seemed like a good time as any to start reading a Woolf; after all, the stars were propitiously aligned so to speak. I chose what is considered Ms. Woolf best work To The Lighthouse and plunged in.

The novel is divided into 3 sections -The Window, Time Passes and To the Lighthouse. The Window opens with Mr and Mrs Ramsay and some their friends visiting them in the summer house of Isle of Skye. They have eight children between them and there are tensions between them as well between them and the children. James the youngest of the Ramsay children wants to go to the Lighthouse, but his father crashes his dreams by saying that the weather will not be clear enough for the expedition,  a statement that causes James to resent his father and creates tensions between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Lily Briscoe, a young under confident  artist is a friend visiting the Ramsays ,as is William Banks, a scholar and Paul Rayley, a young man about town and Minta Manning, along with Charles Tanney, a young upcoming scholar, whose views that women cannot write, cannot paint, greatly undermines Lily’s confidence. Each guest has their own assessment of the Ramsays and vice-versa. The section ends with a dinner party and an engagement of Paul Rayley and Minta. Section 2 is a series of images of time passing, there are deaths and Mrs. McNab who keeps the house for the Ramsays informs us of the decay in the house over a period of 10 years, that includes the World War I years, during which the Ramsay’s have cease to visit the house. Section 3 opens with the return of some of the members of the Ramsay family and some of their old friends, including Lily Briscoe. The Ramsays, especially Mr. Ramsay and James finally set out for the Lighthouse and Lily Briscoe finally finishes the painting she had started 10 years ago.

I had heard much about Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness approach and the fact that especially in this book there is not too much of an action and I was not sure if this was something I was going to really enjoy! Goes to show that unless you try something, you will never know. I loved the book. I am in complete awe of how the whole process of thinking and thoughts connected and held the entire novel together. I completely mesmerized by the fact that the these thoughts reveal the characters as well move the novel forward. I loved Section 2 where there are no distinct characters and just a sense of time moving and as it moved, my heart broke for the change and the loss; but the ending fortified me and the triumph of reaching the Lighthouse was significant at so many levels.  There are enough philosophical debates for the reader to ponder over, long after the novel is read – for instance the transience of work. Mr. Ramsay is constantly worried that his work will be forgotten once he is dead and oblivion is the inevitable end, no matter how  great you are. The concept that art as portrayed in Lily Briscoe’s painting is only means of truly capturing the memories and happiness.The question of marriage as a means of true happiness – Mrs. Ramsay, herself in a happily married state, despite minor irritations is convinced that marriage is “the” thing for women to attain true happiness; however Lily is convinced that women may have other resources outside of marriage to find happiness and containment and not all marriages lead to happiness.The characterizations are wonderful and  even the inanimate objects like sea and the house and the lighthouse are integral and characters unto themselves moving the story along. Most of all I was completely bowled over by prose, the colors that described an image and at the same time spoke of emotions experience by the central characters – “she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!”Another instance of so,e vivid prose where the natural phenomena describes the agony of the protagonists “The nights now are full of wind and destruction; the trees plunge and bend and their leaves fly helter skelter until the lawn is plastered with them and they lie packed in gutters and choke rain pipes and scatter damp paths. Also the sea tosses itself and breaks itself, and should any sleeper fancying that he might find on the beach an answer to his doubts, a sharer of his solitude, throw off his bedclothes and go down by himself to walk on the sand, no image with semblance of serving and divine promptitude comes readily to hand bringing the night to order and making the world reflect the compass of the soul. The hand dwindles in his hand; the voice bellows in his ear. Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer.” The only thing I felt that kind of stumped me is that we in the end do not know what happened to Mr. Banks or even some of the other children of the Ramsays. It was like being left in the middle of road, without even knowing which direction to head in. But that is only a minor deterrent, not taking anything at all from this brilliant book

What more can I say, except that unless your read it, you can never really experience it. I know I will keep coming back to book again and again!

Once Upon A Time in Vermont…

I have not done much reading from my Lecito List for sometime and I really did not want to give it up. After much self motivation and several introspective conversation with my bookish soul, I finally returned to the List and started the New Year with one of the book from the list that I had never read – The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I was not particularly keen on the book – it was set in present age in an all American exclusive college with a bunch of rich kids and a murder in between – a cross pollination between The Class by Eric Segal and I Know What You Did Last Summer (Yes! I am aware that this was published way before I Know What You Did!) However resolution had been taken and I plodded on!

The book opens with the prologue where the narrator, Richard Pappen tells the reader how he and 4 others, killed Bunny, one of their friends. Wikipedia tells me that this was what critic A.O. Scott called a  “a murder mystery in reverse.”. We then go back and learn of Richard Pappen , a lonely lower middle class Californian boy, who dreamed of getting away from the humdrum and non intellectual and non conducive atmosphere of his home, which he shared with his gas station owning father and clerk mother. In a quest to get away from them and their society, he finally applies to Hampden College in Vermont. Once selected he applies for continuing his studies for Ancient Greek; however he is turned down by the enigmatic Professor Julian Morrow who teaches the course, because Morrow claims his class is already full , which Richard discovers to consist of 5 students only. He starts following the students and soon begins to asses each one’s personality – scholarly and unapproachable Henry Winter, the charming and ethereal twin, Charles and Camilla Macaulay, the stylist Francis Abernathy and the group joker Edmond Corcoran, aka Bunny. A chance encounter at the library enables him to interact with the twins, Henry and Bunny, post which he again approaches Julian Marrow and is accepted in the class. Richard initially feels isolated from the group and to hide is low middle class background, he invents a colorful past of Hollywood parents, cocktail parties and similar high life. However, he does not actually become part of 5 until he is asked by Camilla to join them at Francis’s country home, which acts as the retreat and getaway for the 5. He soon becomes part of what seems to be an exclusive group but finds the inner dynamics of the group mystifying, especially the friendship between Henry and Bunny. Henry seems to be always bailing Bunny out and constantly paying for the latter. Infact, Henry barely seems to tolerate Bunny, but yet they plan to go to Italy for the summer together. After the winter break, Richard detects a new tension and distance between the Bunny and himself and the other four. 4 days before the start of the term. he discovers, by accident that Henry, Francis and the twins are planning to leave for Argentina. Bewildered and confused and hurt, he is surprised and relived to find all of them in the class when the semester starts. Henry and Francis later disclose all to Richard as to what had transpired, involving him as well themselves and the 3 others  into a series of actions and events, that would spell tragedy for them all.

This is NOT a happy book, but it is a great book, very much in lines of one the core themes of the novels, Greek tragedy. The writing is harsh, bleak, unrelenting and yet as a reader, you keep going, because the power of the words and the strong plotline. The descriptions mostly describing unhappy events, walking through heavy snowfall into a broken roofed home, the lonely childhood of a scholarly child in a low income and culturally deprived surroundings etc are so strong and potent, that not only can you visualize the images, but they are seared into you. The constant battle of the desolate physical climate and the constant darkness that crept into the soul of the characters, just took my breathe away! The loneliness and the confusing morality standards the protagonists, which I still cannot understand at all (Black is black and white is white),  but was nevertheless unwillingly  empathizing with, is a testimony to the brilliance of Ms. Tartt. The loss of idealism left me along with everybody in the book, heartbroken! The characters are all very charismatic, compelling and convincingly drawn and they blend together as a cohesive unit and at the same time stand independent of each other. The plot while not a mystery of who has done it, is more of why it was done and is fast paced and keeps you as reader gripped though you know what will happen in the end. The only time I felt that Ms. Tartt went OTT was in last 100 pages bringing in the whole angle between the twins and Henry; I believe the end would have still come the way she planned, but  this tangle, in my view kind of lowered the high literary standards and brought it down. It was like going from high brow to plebeian in a matter of pages; there is nothing wrong with either types of literature, but they should not cut into each other’s genre! Also the constant mention of alcohol and drugs got me high just by reading! I have been in a University campus for a long time; from my undergraduate days to my M.Phil and I do understand that alcohol and drugs are a constant way of life, especially in a liberal university like mine or the Hampden college of the book. However the constant drinking even before the crisis hit the protagonist’s lives, made me swear of alcohol for a while!

Its a difficult book to like and put down as a all time favorite for me; but it did take my breathe away and I am still reeling from its fiery prose, therefore without liking liking the book, I really liked the book. Go figure!