I really enjoy taking reading recommendations from people. If you ask a friend to suggest a book for you to read, and they actually give it some thought, chances are the book will tell you something about your friend. To the Lighthouse is another in a long list of books that have been recommended to me in the last couple of months.
Let me start by saying this was not a particularly easy book to read. Many times I would decide to put the book down and go to bed, then realize that I had only read eight or nine pages. I think the best word to describe it is dense. Much of this stems from Woolf writing style. It is very stream-of-consciousness. She moves abruptly from one character to the next--often without warning--leaving it up to the reader to determine who she is writing about.
The book is split up into three parts. The first, and the longest, takes place at the summer beach house of an aristocratic British family. Throughout this section, Woolf supplies her readers with glimpses into the minds of her characters, of which there are many. Mr. Ramsay is a professor of philosophy, and brought some of his brighter student with him to the beach house. There is Lily Briscoe, and a young painter who is enraptured with the Ramsay family. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay also have a number of children.
The second part of the book is cold, almost sterile. Woolf describes the now empty, nearly abandoned house, without sneaking a peak into the mind of anyone, save the maid. A few years have passed since the first section (I am not referring to the rate at which I was reading.) and many changes have come. That is all I will say.
For the final section we are back in the minds of the primary characters. Much of the time, we see the world from the perspective of Lily Briscoe. She doesn't seem to realize that the reason she is never satisfied with what she paints while at the house is because she is trying to capture the essence of the Ramsay family.
The book is really much better than this review makes it sound. Simply describing what takes place does the book injustice, since the plot is really minimal to the work. What made To the Lighthouse so enjoyable was Virginia Woolf's writing and insight into the human psyche. As a friend, I recommend that you read this.