I haven’t read Virginia Woolf for decades, and I had forgotten just how well she writes. I had bought this collection of her short stories in the 1980s, and it was one of the many books I had left behind in my parents’ house when I moved. It has now found its place on my bookshelves again after all these years.
Woolf is better known for her novels—To the Lighthouse, Orlando—but these short stories are gems of observation and character study. It was a delight to rediscover her writing.
Woolf picks up on something mundane and builds a quiet, shattering event from it. A woman sees a black mark on the wall as she looks up from her book and the mark leads to a train of thought about the things she has lost, archaeology and how men make the rules everyone has to live by. In a train, a woman makes up a story about the woman sitting across from her; a new dress meant to give a woman confidence makes her feel even more insecure; a marriage falls apart when the man turns away from the secret game the couple used to play; and a man mourning the death of his wife finds his world turned upside down by her diary.
These are lives in miniature, with tiny details that reveal heartbreaks, unfulfilled desires and regrets. Woolf is known for writing streams of consciousness, and the way she follows a thought as it flutters, alights on something for a while and then moves on is exactly how thought processes work. This is writing to be savoured, not rushed through. If you haven’t read her yet, start with these and then go to her books.