I didn’t realise, the first time I read this, how bittersweet this story is, how it’s about things lost—love, happiness, life. It’s about things slipping by, the possibilities of another life that could have been lived, people one used to know transformed by time. This also fits into the Homo Irrealis feeling. Everything seems just out of reach, or as if it was in reach but the opportunity missed.
Like Tao Lin, Woolf (and yes, the chronology should go the other way, but this is the order in which I read them), does these long, ponderous, meandering passages that, in the accumulation of words, phrases, images, thoughts, gives you a sense of the overwhelming-ness of life. Everything is too much for words, no matter how many you pile on and pile on in a beautiful series.
For example: ‘In London, too, there [her memories] sat, and, half dreaming, came to her through the bedroom door, rain falling, whisperings, stirrings among dry corn, the caress of the sea, as it seemed to her, hollowing them in its arched shell and murmuring to her laid on shore, strewn she felt, like flying flowers over some tomb.’
Is it the way thoughts operate? These interminable sentences? They are so delicately balanced, because you can read them (and some are as long as paragraphs) without getting lost, without losing the train of the idea. This is the difficulty—maintaining sense throughout something that goes on like that.
There is a strangely dreamlike quality, too, to the way she writes her scenes. It is at once in her characters’ heads (as in the above meandering sentences) and hovering somewhere beyond all of them—this effect achieved most strongly when she elides action or glosses over what happens in the physical world or in speech. Most of the speech happens outside of quotes (‘Even if they took him, she said, she would go with him’) giving it an almost timeless sense. We don’t get a very good feeling of time passing or an immediacy of, this happened, then that happened, then that etc. We kind of float through scenes and places and every now and then a landmark is pointed out to us—someone says something, or notices something on the street, or thinks about someone else.
Now—do I like this? I’m not sure. I think so? I like the imprecision. But there is also a delicacy in precise details that I do like.