This short book was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1999 and takes as its start point the graphic suicide of Virginia Woolf. The tragic loss of one of the leading lights of the 'Bloomsbury Group' in 1941, finally succumbing to the fatal depths of recurrent depression at the age of just 59, conferred a profound loss on the cultural health of a nation, yet posterity has rightly lauded the author's legacy. In his homage to Woolf, Michael Cunningham interweaves the thoughts and experiences of three female characters: Mrs Woolf (Virginia), Mrs Brown (Laura) and Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), Located in 1923 London, 1949 L.A. and 1990s New York , respectively. Virginia is mulling over ideas for the fictional character yet to inhabit her most famous novel, while Clarissa and Laura are spending a day in preparation for a celebration in their respective times and place. Successive chapters rotate between the discrete storylines culminating in an unusual cross-over in the end, but the snapshots also draw on some common themes, which beset each of the protagonists, irrespective of the prevailing social norms in 'their' time.
What rescues the book from a sense of cerebral indulgence on the part of the writer though, is the moving beauty of the language and as the reader quaffs down the pages like a smooth, warming liqueur, it is good to savour the interplay of quite sumptuous tones. It also remains consistent with the 'stream of consciousness' storytelling deployed by Woolf in 'Mrs Dalloway' (published 1925), albeit this example is not entirely satisfying, given its fragmentary nature and slightly bitter aftertaste
Still, the takeaway theme for me from this book is the individual capacity, indeed responsibility, to create and shape one's life, within the context of the prevailing time and to weigh the personal sacrifices and gains that attend our choices. Some of the metaphors were also interesting, for example, some mistakes such as cake-making are retrievable, others require stoicism to deal with the consequences, but when it comes down to it, life and love is fundamentally fragile...and fickle.
Ama is the Bodhisattva of our story, she is materialized in a female body, during 16th century Macao (China), with a life of an ordinary person, she represents a female that sleeps in every one of us, Yin of Creation, a wisdom guide that with her purity extinguishes thirst of our souls’ longings. She lives at a time of amazing changes within Macao that is in the center of this spiritual spiral that is to influence generations to come.
Reading this a little at a time: I meant to blow through it all, but I'm too heartbroken at times. This moves from factual - which I can deal with better - to poetical. I weep at the times when she describes how rape can affect a woman, and I weep when she describes the road to recovery. I just want to weep a lot now that we're in one of the more flowery parts - I mean the poetical language and talking in broader terms rather than using statistics here.
It's become a much rougher read for me, and I read until I feel I can stomach no more, and then I read something else. I'd feel cowardly, except the coward's way out - for me - would be to push through past my comfort zone too hard and fast. I know myself to know that my brain is fantastic at repressing when I do this.
I want to take my time, I want to let this sink in and settle, and I want to remember this book.
I'm not giving up on this: far from it. It's just I'm spending time with my family and I find that it's more upsetting reading this with them present. I don't know if I can pinpoint why, but I suspect that the vague sense that it's unsettling comes from them being the best people I know - and this book describing some of the scum of the Earth. It feels battling to them, in a way, to read this in front of them.
Does it make sense? No, not really. But I feel that way and I don't like reading it in front of them. As important as this book feels, and is, spending time with my family is more important - so I'm putting it aside for tonight.
We're watching the football game for those interested.
I do like this book so much I went back and got the one book of hers I hadn't grabbed in the freebies. (There are three up there up until tomorrow.)
I also grabbed a whole bunch more of their nonfiction because I really, really love how this is written. It's an excellent book, but very rough to read.