Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Adeline; a novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

review by Maryom

Adeline was Virginia Woolf's first name - one that was never used as she shared it with her mother's deceased sister. In this story, she represents a young version of the famous author, stopped in time as a teenager, visible to the adult Virginia - sometimes serving as muse, sometimes as a repository of memories, sometimes as a symbol of lost innocence.

Norah Vincent's novel attempts to take the reader inside the mind and thoughts of Virginia Woolf, from 1925 as she starts to work on To The Lighthouse, through the writing of The Waves, to her suicide in 1941. Told in the third person but in a stream of consciousness style that copies Woolf's own, Vincent shows the reader a woman torn by doubts about her work, doubtful of her ability to express exactly what she wants to by the cumbersome method of words on a page, but someone who welcomes death, sees it as comforting and welcoming after the trials and distractions of life. In her meetings with fellow member of the Bloomsbury set - Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, and TS Elliott - and discussions about the work of contemporary authors she comes over as rather catty, jealous of others' success, and overly critical of their work but at the same time deeply attached to those she sees as her friends.

Almost everyone has heard of Virginia Woolf, even if they've been put off reading her novels due to a idea that they might be 'difficult'. For myself, I discovered her writing as a teenager, plunging in at the deep end with The Waves and loving it, but apart from the brief biographical notes found at the end of books I knew little of her life, so when I saw this available for review I was intrigued. It brings to life Woolf's anguish and despair, and enlightened me about much of her life but left me wanting to know more. Throughout I felt more sympathy for her husband Leonard, worrying over and trying his best to care for his unpredictable wife, than for Virginia herself.

The style is at times a little difficult to come to grips with - stream of consciousness by its nature flits about from thought to thought, starting out on one idea and following another at a tangent. It's ideal for capturing thought processes but sometimes I found myself carried away by the words and not taking in the sense of them.
Adeline is an interesting and insightful story, but I think it's necessary to know something of Woolf's life and work to fully appreciate this novel, so I wouldn't recommend it to 'newcomers'.

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Fiction, Literary

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a really interesting book. I have a mixed relationship with stream of consciousness, but I suspect this would work really well in a book about Woolf. Such a lot of material to draw on from her diaries as well. I'll have to look this one up, thanks.