No one speaks in this book. You follow the characters' lives from childhood to adulthood by entering their minds and listening to their thoughts. At first it is difficult to figure out what is going on. There is no narration except short poetic passages about the sea and the sun's placement over it preceding each section of the book (and each period of the characters' lives). By the middle of the book, you know who is speaking without reading the name of the character. You know how they think.
I strongly encourage anyone who is even slightly curious to buy this book. This small investment can change how you view the world. The Waves takes much longer to get through than some whodunit, but that's the beauty of it. My husband and I read a passage at night before going to bed. It's best when read slowly, with time to reflect after a small amount of pages. You'll be highlighting sentences that make great quotes as you go. What a glorious book!
The whole text is entirely soliloquys in the first person. No 3rd person description, no omniscient narrator, just the opening of quotation marks, one of the few characters begins to speak, then the ending of quotation marks... beginning once more with the opening quotation marks for the next speaker's soliloquy, and so on and on in waves of thought.
We follow each speaker from early childhood to old age, and we know them intimately by the book's end. Give the book a chance; at first I could only take three or four *pages* at a time, but also looked forward to these few pages every day. Later, I could easily read more and more, and truly the experience was like "waves" of life, lapping over my consciousness.
If you like unique "novels," e.g. Nabokov's Pale Fire (although different it's unique too), this is a must-have. There's nothing else like it, even in Virginia Woolf's body of work.
If you can't take the full load of first-person consciousness, but like her dreamy style, then go for her book of short stories. But I recommend keeping the book, and treating yourself, a few pages at a time... you too will feel at the end of a magnificent life's journey by time you follow each character's thoughts to the end.
I consider this to be Woolf's greatest work. Mrs. Dalloway may be a more pleasurable read and more consistently a "masterpiece", but the Waves is often so intense and beautiful that it's devastating. In fact, there are times that one is a bit overwhelmed by the surfeit of emotion, poetic words, unremitting interiority.
My Woolf pix in order: 1. Waves 2. Dalloway 3. Jacob's Room 4. A Room of One's Own 5. Orlando
I personally feel that To the Lighthouse is more of a work to be appreciated than liked--it's simply too refined. And I couldn't make it through Between the Acts--too many upper class English people sitting around a table in the country sipping tea and performing their subtle, boring manners.
Wait, I can't end on a sour note: Woolf is a bloody delight!