There are some books that shouldn’t be rushed like The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf. I’m not even going to say how long I didn’t rush because it stretches beyond months and into the years category.
Part of what took me so long is not the intensity often present in Woolf’s writing, though that frequently caused me to put the book down after just one story. No what took so long is that this book is filled with not only Woolf’s published stories but all of her unpublished bits and pieces too and while any scrap of Woolf’s fiction far exceeds anything I could write after repeated revisions, a lot of the stuff in this book wasn’t very good. There were quite a few sketches of different characters at Mrs. Dalloway’s party. While Mrs. Dalloway is among my top ten favorite books, the sketches were only mildly to moderately interesting and didn’t add anything to my enjoyment of the novel.
Then there is the unevenness of the book. You have brilliant stories like The Mark on the Wall and Lappin and Lapinova alongside half-finished “portraits,” unfinished stories and complete stories that are obviously early drafts.
The book has several appendices and a hefty notes section that details the history of the manuscript from which the story is printed. At first this was really interesting but after awhile I stopped looking at the notes because they didn’t add anything to the story and I discovered that I didn’t really care about all those details.
So while I enjoyed many of these stories I would have much preferred reading a collection of her finished short fiction. I think this “complete” book is for those who, after reading everything else just can’t get enough. And even though I love Woolf, I’m not the sort of reader who wants to read everything a writer ever wrote, including her grocery lists.
I am disappointed that I wasn’t bowled over, but I am glad to have finally finished the book. It was beginning to weigh heavy on my mind seeing it there day after day in my in progress pile.