After her first two novels, The Voyage Out and Night and Day, Virginia Woolf became known for her novelistic experiments in form.
The Voyage Out is quite an autobiographical story without much experimentation in form. Night and Day is a gentle exploration of the realism of the romance novel - character driven, with the plot centring upon the development of attraction between two pairs of lovers. After these works came more overt treatments of form, in novels such as The Waves and Jacob's Room.
The Years, however, is something else entirely. It is once again a very realistic, natural novel about people and their feelings, told simply and chronologically. In some respects The Years is Woolf's most realist novel.
The Years follows the lives of the Pargiter family and those who flit in and out of their social circle in the course of a lifetime. One of its joys lies in the minute nature of the observations - both of the details of everyday life in the 1880s, when it opens (such as the embroidering of a bootbag, or the jingling of a hansom cab), and of the emotions that individual moments of crisis create (the death of the matriarch that opens the novel, or the discovery of the patriarch's longstanding infidelity to his wife, the mother of his children).
In reality, those details of existence go on mindnumbingly, over and over, for decades until our life is spent. We become blind to them, and to those we are with day in, day out. You never notice a parent or a spouse going grey or losing weight, but a visitor long-absent is utterly struck by the same observation.
In precisely this way, we are deeply affected by a reunion with an old friend or distant relative after decades apart. So much of their life has altered in the interim, and we are forced to make immense mental leaps to glimpse the joy (or agony) of the many changes that have taken place within their lives since we last met. We catch up swiftly, cognitively speaking, but we are painfully aware of how much we have missed.
This is precisely what is shown in The Years, which captures those feeling so vividly that reading it makes my heart ache for what the characters have missed in each others' lives over the intervening decades. This is the case for both close members of the Pargiter family (after the closeness of their childhood they drift apart almost completely) and whenever one of them encounters an old friend such as Kitty Lasswade who has spun away into a new orbit.
I love The Years for doing something absolutely new and unexpected, while at the same time retaining its essential human warmth and focus on character. It was a gentle read, full of the sadness of passing time, families growing apart once thy are grown up and no longer all under the same roof. It was very sincere and natural. It was totally honest and the scenes of reunion utterly captured that sense you have when you meet people again after decades of no longer really knowing them.
Many thanks for reading my review of The Years by Virginia Woolf. The comments section is open for you to share your thoughts.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Maurice by EM Forster here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Secret of Annexe Three by Colin Dexter here.