"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway is a highly unusual novel about one day in the life of upper-class Clarissa Dalloway, following her as she prepares for a party she is throwing that evening, and as she does so she reflects on her life choices, missed opportunities and a lost love. 

Although the focus of this short novel is on Clarissa, the narrative switches to several other characters throughout. This rotation is done without warning and so fluidly that I often didn’t notice the change in narrator, and it was sometimes confusing to keep track of whose head I was now inside. The writing is poetic and beautiful to read, but in many ways this is the novel’s main downfall: it reads almost like one very long, meandering poem, which hinders reader comprehension. 

The characters are not particularly interesting, with the exception of Septimus, whom Clarissa never actually meets, but who is the most intriguing and complex character in the whole novel and is almost as prevalent as the titular Mrs. Dalloway. Septimus is a war veteran, and has been mentally scarred by his time in combat: he hallucinates regularly, fancying he can see his dead friend and that the birds are singing in Greek. Septimus’ character serves to comment on the treatment of those suffering from a mental illness as well as allowing the reader to view the world through the eyes of insanity.

Mrs. Dalloway is not necessarily a novel I would recommend as leisure reading: it is hard to understand and follow without any guidance. Because of this it is quite boring and disengaging, which in turn means that a lot of important themes and messages can be easily missed. However, I think it would be an interesting novel to study: the prose reflects Woolf’s disturbed and chaotic mind, and underlines controversial issues such as mental illness, suicide, class segregation and homosexuality.

Rating: 5/10

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