September 25, 2008

Mrs Dalloway: Review

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Take everything you know about writing or reading a novel and throw it out the window.

So, Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of a politician, starts her day with her party on her mind. The book ends the moment the party ends. That's the book- sort of. It's not like anything I've ever read before.

Virginia Woolf uses the stream-of-consciousness device to look into the lives of a handful of Londoners a few years after the first World War. We start with:

"Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."

From there we meander through the heads of several bystanders into the disturbed mind of Septimus Smith, a former war hero who is descending in madness. His Italian wife, Rezia, meets with two inept doctors, who believe Septimus needs to snap out of his depression. At the same time Peter, an old boyfriend of Clarissa's, comes to town, stirring up feelings of discontent within her. What would it have been like to have married Peter?

At times, I felt like a bee buzzing in and out of everyone's heads. I never knew where I was until I was a couple of sentences into the character's 'narrative'. Woolf made me work like a dog. I've never had to work this hard at reading before. I'm sure I read one section five times before I realized a character was thinking about a homeless lady and not a fountain. Or was it a fountain and not a woman? Hmm.

This book was only 140 pages but it took a long time for me to finish. Mostly because of all the re-reading. Still, it was interesting. The theme of mortality, time getting away from us, gave me a lot to think about. Clarissa is a woman who is more than she seems. To most of the characters, she is a frivolous woman who likes to plan parties to impress people. Clarissa, however, is tired of trying so hard. It all seems so pointless since we're all going to die.

At some point, I will read Mrs Dalloway again. I'm sure I missed...a lot! I think if you want to exercise your brain, put away your Sudukos, grab some Redbull and Mrs Dalloway.

Other Reviews:
Maree @ Just Add Books

13 comments :

  1. Thanks, but I've already exercised my brain this week, with Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. :-D
    I know I've got one of Woolf's books around here somewhere, but it's not Mrs. Dalloway. Now you've got me wondering which one I have...

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  2. I really liked Mrs. Dalloway. It made a nice companion piece to The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I find that I either love or hate stream of consciousness novels though.

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  3. Mrs. Dalloway has been on my TBR list for a long time. Maybe I should take the plunge and pick it up from my library.

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  4. You made it sound interesting, although I'm not a fan of working while I read, that tends to put me to sleep.
    I read The Hours last year, and it was ok, but I hadn't read Mrs Dalloway. I imagine you'd enjoy the comparisons. It was done as an homage to Mrs Dalloway, and theoretically it was good and ambitious, I just found it boring. But that may be die to the fact that I wasn't familiar with Mrs Dalloway.

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  5. Softdrink- Oh well, next time your brain needs a workout.

    Rachel- It's a great device but can be confusing to the reader.

    Nik- Give it a shot!

    Raidergirl- I haven't read The Hours and didn't see the movie. Maybe I should.

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  6. Hahaha that was a great review! I love the bee image. I'll have to give this one a try. Thanks!

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  7. I think this is a beautiful book but I completely agree that it does take some work and patience. I think if I hadn't read it for class and had to write a paper over the book I wouldn't have liked it quite as much. I agree that The Hours by Cunningham is a great follow up. It's quiet but one that I still remember years later.

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  8. Thanks for a fantastique review!! I've had this one on my shelves for ages and always want to pick it up but then pass it over for something else.

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  9. I read this last year and enjoyed it as well. She seems like James Joyce's writing and I do plan on reading some at some point. To The Lighthouse is another one worth reading if you like Woolfs style.

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  10. It's interesting to me that you felt you had to work hard at Mrs Dalloway, because while I often feel that way with multiple narrators, I felt that this book flowed so smoothly that it worked better than that technique usually works.

    So now I hope you'll read The Hours! I always recommend that right after this book.

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  11. I haven't read this book, but it's interesting that it is considered a classic and yet the style seems to break all the usual rules about narrative voice. I guess I'll just have to read it for myself! Thanks for the review.

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  12. "Clarissa is a woman who is more than she seems."

    I imagined trying to read this book while in my twenties and could not fathom liking it at that age. Reading it for the first time much closer to Clarissa's age definitely gave me a different perspective on it.

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  13. I agree that Mrs. Dalloway is a difficult piece of literature to read. I have almost finished reading it for school. But to be honest, I'm not enjoying it and am finding the storyline quite dull and mundane. I just cannot get into it. Wish me luck. Sigh.

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