Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s well-known novel Mrs. Dalloway is without a doubt a classic of English literature.   However, it has many characteristics not commonly associated with classics.   It doesn’t take ages to read.   It doesn’t distract the reader with superfluous distractions.   Most importantly, as the book is read, one is irrevocably and achingly aware and understanding of the plights of a woman, out to buy the flowers herself.

This is exactly what the book is about, or its plot at least.   Mrs. Dalloway, an upper-class London socialite goes out to buy some flowers for her big ball that evening.   On the way, she thinks about her life.   About the things that already happened, as well as the things that might happen in the future.   She remembers her old love, who she rejected simply because his passion brought out the worst in her.   She thinks about her husband, her dull, reliable husband, who she feels grounds and protects her from her true self, the unimaginable horror she feels is lurking within.   And finally, she is forced to think about a man just back from the war, a man she doesn’t even know, but who seems to be able to open her eyes with a selfish, yet heroic act of despair.

The tortured soul of Virginia Woolf provides great source for the seemingly flawless, yet sadly disturbed title character.   The stream of consciousness form of the book makes all these seemingly random scenes (yet, is anything in life truly random?) flow through the reader’s mind like a dream.   However, this dream does not tell of fairies and magical places.   It deals with the reality and such things as wars and the effect they have on individuals, as well as on the collective consciousness, the choices one has to make in life, the difference between life and death, and the lengths one is willing to go just to find a piece of mind.

RATING:   5/5

This review was written and originally published by Nikola.   You can see more reviews at Nikola’s Book Blog, http://cunninghamfan.blogspot.com/ .

 

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Bits and Pieces

The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon

Tracing our steps from the beginning / Until they vanished into the air / Trying to understand how our lives had led us there   Jackson Browne

It was Jackson Browne who said of the past, the things we remember seem so distant and so small.   The past – and its impact on the present – is the theme of The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon.   This is the story of Justin Fisher, a man who grew up outside of Los Angeles, the son of Robert and Caroline Fisher.   But somehow he thinks that this was just a part of his life.   He begins to remember growing up as “T.J.” with a red-haired mother, living in the snow of the east coast, perhaps in Boston.   “…the information was presenting itself to him in erratic bursts.   In bits and pieces.   Out of nowhere.”

In this tale by a Hollywood screenwriter turned author, Justin’s search for his past is painful.   It is a past filled with family secrets and a great deal of anger.   He is just one of the characters who have both pleasant and painful memories of home and relations.   “Home is the place in which you were rooted by your beginnings…  It marked and branded you.   And if it was a broken, desolate place it would leave you hungry and dangerous, and punished, for the rest of your life.”

The Language of Secrets repeatedly deals with the tension between remembering one’s childhood home as a place of sanctity and safety, and as a place to escape from.   “Mom, I don’t need a house.   I’ve got a condo.   I’m head of publicity for a major movie studio.   I’ve got a kick-ass life that I love.   I have no interest in getting married and settling down…  (This house was) a nice place to grow up in.   But that’s the whole point of being a kid and then becoming an adult.   You grow up.   You move on.”

So says one of Justin’s sisters to his mother.   But usually in a family at least one of the siblings must lead the life chosen by his or her parents.   In this story, it is Justin’s father who winds up living a second-hand version of his own father’s insurance salesman’s life.   Disastrous consequences follow for everyone.

Clearly, Dixon has devised a fascinating set-up for a novel.   There’s love here, but also – as previously mentioned – a lot of anger and rage.   Rage that comes from seeking independence, even as a fully grown adult:  “I have a rich father-in-law who treats me and my wife and child like we’re a wholly owned subsidiary.”

Dixon’s strength is in getting the reader to want to follow along with a not-so-pleasant tale, wanting to turn the page, and the next, with a bit of trepidation as to what’s ahead.   In Language, life is not what it seems to be.   This is demonstrated by jumbled memories of jumbled events.   (Haven’t we all been corrected by family members about when and where something in our past occurred?   And don’t we, nevertheless, continue to believe in our own version of events?)

The difficulty with reading Language is that events seem to happen in strange order, in non-chronological fashion, even when the author identifies the time and place.   The reader might be tempted to make a chart of the events in the story, and may find that they just can’t chart out in sequence.   Perhaps this is Dixon’s way of reminding us that life remains anchored in confusion, and fog.

The great revelation perhaps never did come.   Virginia Woolf

Language is such a complicated story that in the end there’s no great revelation.   This reader would love to see a follow-up from Dixon that is a bit simpler and told in chronological order.   Still, The Language of Secrets serves as an indication that a very promising new writer has arrived on the scene.

Recommended.

“A sense of desperation rose in Caroline…  She had unwittingly written her life into a language of secrets, into an indecipherable code riddled with questions.”

An advance review copy was provided by Doubleday.   The Language of Secrets will be released on Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Roberta Lou Rallojay Benson.

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