Attempting to review this book is no less daunting a task than attempting to understand every printed passage on its many pages. Because this is Virginia Woolf we're talking about. But I'm trying anyway.
Reading Mrs Dalloway
is like being rushed through a slideshow of images, none of them being very pretty to look at but each one of them vividly detailed. And all these images are meticulously stitched together by the words of a masterful writer, considered one of the best among her contemporaries.
The book is very deceptively titled, because the eponymous Mrs Dalloway is barely the protagonist. She is more like a thread connecting all the characters, her own voice being one of the many echoed in Woolf's immortal words.
This was my second brush with the much venerated and equally feared 'stream of consciousness'
narrative device. (first one being [b:Beloved|6149|Beloved|Toni Morrison|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347984578s/6149.jpg|736076] by Toni Morrison, yet to encounter Proust and Joyce)
And even though I did find myself groaning inwardly a few times at the relentless nature of the narrative, I did not consider it a major irritant. Woolf's writing is so beautifully lyrical, fraught with wordy but apt descriptions and fascinating characterization, that the reader forgets the discomfiture of being denied breaks in the form of chapter endings.
In almost the same way as Clarissa Dalloway's mind flickers between love for Peter this moment and reproach and disdain in the next one, the narrative flits between the minds of a host of characters. The fleeting glimpses of the many myriad shades of the human psyche, rob the readers of their own free will to pull away from the story and induce a trance-like state where everything seems surreal. It's as if we are continuously and steadily in motion, yet at the same time rooted to the same spot.
One moment we're experiencing Clarissa's contradictory feelings - of being stuck in a marriage of convenience yet cherishing the feeling of security the identity of an accomplished man's wife brings - while in the next one, we're being saddened by Peter Walsh's endless love for a woman who kept pushing him away, then pulling him close throughout the years.
One moment we see a traumatized war veteran, Septimus Smith, contemplating suicide while in the next we find his hapless, distraught Italian wife Rezia, hating an alien English culture with all her heart.Mrs Dalloway
is like a montage of secret, deeply personal thoughts and utterly humane emotions. It is a chorus of voices, none of which match either in pitch or scale, yet combined together they make wonderful music which speaks of human suffering, despair and regret. Mrs Dalloway
brims with hope and hopelessness, at the same time. Which is the very essence of life itself.P.S.:- I forgot to mention how I had almost wanted to deduct another star, mainly due to the condescending, disparaging tone in which Peter Walsh talks about India a couple of times. But then I realized this was in the early 1900s. And it may just be the character and not illustrious Mrs Woolf.