I have to admit that I am embarrassed that I had never read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf until 2019. My daughter gave me a copy at least five years ago, and I just put it on the shelf thinking that I’d get to it eventually if I ever felt like it. It always sank a little lower on the list as other books popped into my life for one reason or another. What a fool I was. This novel is now on the top of my favorites list.
There is no way to summarize the plot because there is no plot. It’s literary fiction, and Modernist at that, so it revolves around the characters’ thoughts. Think about this for a minute. What passes through your mind as you do something, or observe something? Let’s say you’re doing something as ordinary as preparing a cup of coffee. As you pour the brew into the cup, then go to the refrigerator to get the cream and pour a splash of cream into the cup, are you just moving on muscle memory, or are thoughts flying (or floating) in your mind? Your husband enters the room and you wonder why he won’t drink Starbucks coffee instead of Community – it would make life so much easier to have to purchase only one kind of coffee, and it would take up so much less counter space to have only an espresso machine instead of and espresso machine and a Mr. Coffee. Then again, why should he give up what he loves and not you? He’s such a good man to have tolerated you for all these years, why begrudge him a cup of Community coffee? That’s the state coffee of Louisiana anyway, so his choice makes more sense than yours. You look at him making his coffee and you think how fastidious he is in everything he does, not just how he prepares a cup of coffee. He is not a procrastinator like everyone else. As in that time you had to send photos via SMS to get help with the coolant light that came on in your car when you were 1000 miles away. He walked you through the whole confounding procedure on the phone so that you wouldn’t be stranded. He called you back every few minutes to make sure you were ok. What a man. You think how much you love this man.
Then you take a sip of your Starbucks coffee.
That’s what To the Lighthouse is, only better. Much, much better.