One of the best things about studying English was the number of books I would never have read without “required reading lists” that have since become some of my favourites. Mrs Dalloway is one of those books! When I first saw it on the syllabus I was a little daunted, I’d heard that it was quite experimental and that Virginia Woolf’s writing style was about as deep as the mid-Atlantic. Left to my own devices this would have probably languished on my to-read list for years, if not indefinitely, as it was I had a week to read it and so I took the plunge.
What first struck me was how different the structure, or rather lack of structure was. Reading Virginia Woolf is like waking up inside somebody else’s brain- still retaining some sense of yourself but completely surrounded by another persons thoughts and feelings, ranging from the mundane to the complex. So what is it even about? I will applaud the person who can sum it up properly, because I’ve been sitting for ages trying to work out what to write! At it’s most basic, the novel follows the progress of one day as Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party- you can’t imagine how long it’s taken me to reduce the book to this small sentence that still doesn’t seem to be right. It’s funny how the best books do that to you isn’t it? Somehow the traditional plot takes a backseat and leaves space for Woolf’s beautiful writing to take the prize. It’s not a story in the traditional sense of beginning, middle and end and there’s not really a character you could definitively point to and say there’s the main character. The more I read, the more I thought of Mrs Dalloway as Woolf’s way of processing the way she saw the world. It’s hard to describe how surreal this experience is. There are no chapters in Mrs Dalloway, so there never felt like there was a natural pause. The result of this was that when I prized myself away from the pages I felt almost dazed (in a good way) as the real world came back into focus!
I could keep talking about this book for ages, but in the end I can’t really do much better than encourage you to read it for yourself and if you have read it to plead with you to talk to me about it!
Seriously, please read Mrs Dalloway, then come back here and tell me what you thought!