Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse is an interesting novel that uses a different type of writing technique. You may not be familiar with stream of consciousness writing, so let me give you a quick definition. Basically, Woolf's idea was that at various moments in life, our senses trigger memories. For instance, when we hear a song or smell a specific scent our minds travel back in time to the moment where we first heard that song or smelt that scent. And in the middle of the current events of our lives, our minds are travelling back to other things that have happened. In essence, that is the way in which this novel is written.
The point of view in the novel is traded around quite frequently, and at first it is hard for the reader to know who's mind they are in. The point of view changes so drastically at times, that it is easy to miss the transition. But once you get the hang of this technique, those transitions become easier. My problem is that by the time I got the hang of it, the novel sped up, and there were not as many of those transitions left.
So what is the basic story? Well the novel is divided into 3 main sections. In section 1 (The Window) 126 pages are devoted to one afternoon/night in the life of the Ramsay's and their friends. And the entire story revolves around one dinner party and the question as to whether the children will be able to travel to the lighthouse the next day. But because of this technique known as stream of consciousness, we do not only see the characters in the midst of this one afternoon. Their backgrounds are also looked into, and readers learn where some of the characters came from, what has happened to them in their lives, and what they believe about life in general.
As section 2 begins (Time Passes), this technique continues. But after just one short chapter (less than a page), time passes... 10 years. In less than 20 pages, Woolf transports readers 10 years into the future. This section mainly focuses on the house in which the first section took place, and the characters themselves are rarely mentioned. But when a character is brought back up, it is usually a significant event from the character's life.
Finally, section 3 (The Lighthouse) continues with a few of the characters, as some make their way back to this specific house near the lighthouse. And the novel is wrapped up nicely, fulfilling the dreams of some characters and shattering the dreams of others (or at least not allowing them to come to fruition as they would have wished). These last 60-70 pages are just one afternoon as well, and the character's thoughts play another key role in the novel's closing pages.
I do not particularly care for this style of writing, although it was neat to see how it works. The story itself was fairly interesting, but it is not one that I would want to re-read. Furthermore, I do not think that I would want to go back and read other novels that use this same technique. But it is a crafty way of writing, and I am sure that it was well received when Woolf first published the novel. Some of you may enjoy this type of writing style, but personally, I do not think that I would recommend it.