Reading While Moving or Why I Hate Endnotes
I've always been a quiet fan of Woolf's, as many women who read are. I had the great fortune of taking a class on Conrad, Woolf, and Joyce during a summer term at Cambridge. I have read many of the most popular works and have her collected essays and diaries on my TBR shelf. The Indigo Girls song "Virginia Woolf" is one of my favorites. But Jacob's Room is not captivating me. I am impressed by it. I am intrigued by the concept. I even have passages - beautiful, intelligent, otherwordly passages - underlined in it. But I do not want to keep reading it. It is not compelling me.
Jacob's Room is a complex narrative that centers around a mostly absent or invisible main character, Jacob. Woolf is playing with perspective, relationship, and personhood through the varied and variable depictions of Jacob from boyhood (seen mostly through the eyes of his mother) through adulthood (seen from many angles). I am only about halfway through, so Jacob still remains shadowy - as he perhaps might for the duration. And while the concept is challenging, thought-provoking, and alive, the narrative is dragging horribly for me.
I blame the endnotes.
I hate endnotes. I don't know why exactly although I have some suspicions. One reason could be that much like my inability to discard a book I haven't read yet or am not enjoying reading, I have an extremely difficult time ignoring the notes. Footnotes aren't so bad because I can easily glance down to see if the notation is merely a citation or a reference to some compelling bit of information that will ease and inform my reading. But endnotes require me to keep the page handy and flip to the end of the book and back again just to see how relevant the note is. And most of the time, the note is completely unhelpful and thoroughly disruptive to my reading.
For instance, during a predictably confusing passage of fragmented conversation and description, we get a note. I flip to it, hoping I might get some explanation for what is going on or some greater meaning to all the noise and confusion. Instead, I get a note that explains Woolf observed (and recorded in a letter to her sister), a similar scene in a noisy restaurant in London. Really? You needed to tell me that the author pulled an example of something she observed in real life into her fiction? That's astonishing!
Of course, I understand the academic scholarship reasons for such a note. It is interesting to find correlatives between the fiction and personal writing of an acclaimed author. However, it contributes nothing to my reading of the novel. In fact, it interrupts my reading and causes me to continually question my ability to interpret the work appropriately. The notes make me feel there is some right answer out there, and I need to constantly be checking my answer against the key.
I will finish Jacob's Room, and I hope those shining examples of Woolf's great skill can overcome my frustration with the act of reading this text. Perhaps, I could binder-clip the notes pages together. If I make it harder to get to them, maybe I could finally ignore them and just read.