Jacob’s Room

I loved this book. What it does with time is some trippy-ass shit. I can maybe understand (if I try really, REALLY hard) why some people wouldn’t like Virginia Woolf or be annoyed by her, but man, I’m going to say it: I think she’s one of the finest (if not THE finest) writers in the English language. What she does with words, man. No one else comes close. No one else can imitate it. It almost makes me want to say, If you don’t like Virginia Woolf, I don’t know if we can be friends. 

I loved the impressionistic style of language in this book; the colors, the sounds, the smells, the sights. I wasn’t being narrated to; I was being painted a picture. I loved the ambiguity at the center of it–‘Jacob’s Room’ is a very appropriate title. Are we all just empty rooms waiting to be filled with whatever clutter we collect? Our shoes, clothes, books, papers, unpaid bills, lovers… is that we are? Is that accumulation all that constitutes a ‘self’? A collection and assortment of memories, of facts figures? Age, weight, height, appearence, college attended, degree attained. A list. An assortment of bullet points.

These are all concerns of Woolf’s throughout the book. She circles around them relentlessly without bringing them fully to the forefront, as she does with her other themes, which include the Meaning of History and the Role of Men. The next to last chapter, which deals with the beginning of World War I, is especially powerful and effective at conveying these last two themes. And then, the last chapter, in which someone is left holding Jacob’s shoes. That’s all that’s left, of him and hundreds and thousands of other men who got sent off to war. Just an empty pair of shoes. That’s all. So understated and subtle.

Reading this book is like watching a camera in a Terrence Malick movie twirl and spin headlessly around. It’s constantly moving. On one page a cat is a kitten; the next, it’s an old puss. I love the way that Woolf deals with youth in this book, the idea of growing up and growing old. This is a coming of age novel unlike any other, due to its style and the representation of its themes. I am so, so glad that I read this.

My three favorite quotes:

“It was not that he himself happened to be lonely, but that all people are.”

“It’s not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it’s the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.”

“This gloom, this surrender to the dark waters which lap us about, is a modern invention… He would go into Parliament and make fine speeches—but what use are fine speeches and Parliament, once you surrender an inch to the black waters? Indeed there has never been any explanation of the ebb and flow in our veins—of happiness and unhappiness.”

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