Posted by: Jennifer | January 13, 2007

Book 1: Jacob’s Room

I have finished the first book on my list: Jacob’s Room, by Virginia Woolf.

This is a book about loss. Loss of childhood, loss of love, loss of expression, and loss of life. The protagonist in the story — Jacob Flanders — is someone who appears as almost abstract. We watch him live his life from a distance, through the eyes of his mother, his siblings, his friends, and his lover, but we are never really able to see what makes him tick or what makes him think. We’re never allowed to get too close to him or know who he is, which in a way foreshadows what is to become of him. A large part of the reason for that is the nature of the story, and the direction that Woolf was taking with the character. But I think that another reason for that was because Jacob is a man and, being a woman, Woolf is almost incapable of getting into his head. This was a time and place where women were not thought of as capable beings, and the gulf between the sexes was so wide that it was impossible to cross. Which makes it very impressive that Woolf was even able to write a book with a male as the main protagonist at all.

I had a lot of problems getting through this book, for a lot of reasons. For starters, the fact that I was really not able to connect with the main subject matter. I’ve been lucky (so far) in my life that I have not really experienced “loss”. The family members that I have lost either died when I was too young to know them, or were people that I was not close enough to in life to really feel a connection with. Boyfriends have come and gone, but in the aftermath I was able to realize that what I thought was love at the time was really not. I am definitely not capable of getting into the same headspace that Woolf was in when she wrote the book (let’s face it: she wasn’t the most light-hearted and carefree of novelists) and for that reason I had a hard time relating to the majority of the characters in the story.

I was also thrown several times by the format of the book. This is a story that has no real plot to speak of, at least not in the same way that the modern book has. There’s no purpose to the storyline and it is not driven by any major events. The general banality of life is the reason for the tale, and that is the only plot that exists. I’m someone who usually heads straight for the murder-mystery/romance aisle, so the idea of not having a cliffhanger from chapter to chapter was a concept that really took some work for me to grasp.

This was Woolf’s third novel and is considered to be an important text in the progression of her work. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting into it, because of both the subject matter and the layout of the story. I’m going to have to give this book two stars out of five.

Next up: The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett.

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