"I see a ring," said Bernard, "hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light."This is the beginning (or almost the beginning) of Virginia Woolf's seventh novel, The Waves. Already, it is obvious that this novel is not only very different from her previous novels, but from all previous novels. It continues in this fashion through the entire book (aside from each section's italicized introduction, which details the sun's movements over the course of a single day), following the lives of these six people as they grow from childhood to old age. I cannot begin to describe how terrific and different this book is. I am not well enough read to be an authority--nor am I a book reviewer--but I will say it tops my list of favorites. Here are a few quotations which show how excellently Woolf captures the immense range of feelings and perspectives not only from childhood to old age but from introvert to extrovert and all the other unnameable contrasts of multifarious being.
"I see a slab of pale yellow," said Susan, "spreading away until it meets a purple stripe."
"I hear a sound," said Rhoda, "cheep, chirp; cheep, chirp; going up and down."
"I see a globe," said Neville, "hanging down in a drop against the enormous flanks of some hill."
"I see a crimson tassel," said Jinny, "twisted with golden threads."
"I hear something stamping," said Louis. "A great beast's foot is chained. It stamps, and stamps, and stamps."
"I cried as I ran, faster and faster. What moved the leaves? What moves my heart, my legs? I dashed in here, seeing you green as a bush, like a branch, very still, Louis, with your eyes fixed. 'Is he dead?' I thought, and kissed you, with my heart jumping under my pink frock like the leaves, which go on moving, though there is nothing to move them. Now I smell geraniums; I smell earth mould. I dance. I ripple. I am thrown over you like a net of light. I lie quivering flung over you."
"Now I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief. It shall be screwed tight into a ball. I will go to the beech wood alone, before lessons. I will not sit at a table, doing sums. I will not sit next Jinny and next Louis. I will take my anguish and lay it upon the roots under the beech trees. I will examine it and take it between my fingers. They will not find me. I shall eat nuts and peer for eggs through the brambles and my hair will be matted and I shall sleep under hedges and drink water from ditches and die there."
"We have proved, sitting eating, sitting talking, that we can add to the treasure of moments. We are not slaves bound to suffer incessantly unrecorded petty blows on our bent backs. We are not sheep either, following a master. We are creators. We too have made something that will join the innumerable congregations of past time. We too, as we put on our hats and push open the door, stride not into chaos, but into a world that our own force can subjugate and make part of the illumined and the everlasting road."
"Oppose ourselves to this illimitable chaos," said Neville, "this formless imbecility. Making love to a nursemaid behind a tree, that soldier is more admirable than all the stars. Yet sometimes one trembling star comes in the clear sky and makes me think the world beautiful and we maggots deforming even the trees with our lust."
I only have two more of her novels left; then I will have read all of them. So far she has easily gotten better with every book--it has been fascinating to follow her development chronologically. If you have not read anything of hers and are interested in giving her a try, I'd recommend starting with any of her novels after the first two, as they are more conventional (though I love The Voyage Out) and do not have the innovative brilliance which grows throughout the rest.