Book Review: The Years by Virginia Woolf

Jan 14, 2019 | Comments

The Hours by Virginia Woolf

As the Pargiters, a middle-class English family, move from the oppressive confines of the Victorian home of the 1880s to the ‘present day’ of the 1930s, they are weighed down by the pressures of war, the social strictures of patriarchy, capitalism and Empire, and the rise of Fascism. Engaging with a painful struggle between utopian hopefulness and crippled with despair, the novel is a savage indictment of Virginia Woolf’s society, but its bitter sadness is relieved by the longing for some better way of life, where `freedom and justice’ might really be possible. This is Virginia Woolf’s longest novel, and the one she found the most difficult to write.

The most popular of all her writings during her lifetime, it can now be re-read as the most challengingly political, even revolutionary, of all her books.

Woolf is extremely hard for me to read. When I was reading Mrs Dalloway, I tried many times to get past the first twenty pages. I ended up listening to an audiobook while I read my physical copy. The Years is no exception. I had to put down The Years and then come back to it after reading several books. I could not read it straight through.

When I think about it now, most of The Years is a blur. The book follows the very large Partiger family. A lot of characters were hard to keep track of. Thankfully they all had something distinct enough about each of them that it was easy to tell them apart but it was still hard to put the personality to the name and remember how everyone relates to everyone else. One of the biggest mind trips I had was when the mother, Rose, died. She had a daughter, also named Rose, and I was terribly confused.

How Woolf could have possibly thought up all these characters, their thoughts, their lives… It’s almost too much to believe. The small moments and snapshots can seem mundane and pointless (a common complaint about Woolf there is no plot) but by the end of the book, it’s all extremely moving to me.

At the end, The Years turns into a scene that could have been out of Mrs. Dalloway. Both novels feature a party where all the characters come together and have their own little moments. The reunion of the Partiger family, of those still alive, is a touching moment. The last time they were all together was during the first section of the book. They reminisc and muse about their lives.

Overall, I was very impressed by this book. This is a book that I need to read again because I am sure I missed a lot, if not most of it. It is a long and dense read but it is worth it. I wish I could just tear through Woolf’s books but they are demanding. The Years will definitely be read again, when I don’t have to make sure I return it on time to the library.

Quotes

  • “Things can’t go on for ever, she thought. Things pass, things change, she thought, looking up at the ceiling.”
  • “We cannot make laws and religions that fit because we do not kbow ourselves.”
  • “He can’t say what he wants to say; he’s afraid. They’re all afraid; afraid of being laughed at; afraid of giving themselves away. […] We’re all afraid of each other, he thought; afraid of what? Of criticism; of laughter; of people who think differently. […] That’s what separates us; fear, he thought.”

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