Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: To The River (Olivia Laing)

Too much meandering dilutes the focus

★★★☆☆ 1/4 – CALSPIE 6.57

Title: To The River
Author: Olivia Laing
Narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Non-Fiction / Travel / Memoir / Nature
First published: 2011
Edition: Audio & Kindle e-book

 This is the story of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. One midsummer week over sixty years later, Olivia Laing walked Woolf’s river from source to sea. The result is a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape – and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love. Along the way, Laing explores the roles rivers play in human lives, tracing their intricate flow through literature and mythology alike.

For me this was kind of a frustrating read. It had all the elements I enjoy, but the way they were just thrown together did not work as well as I wanted it to.

Virginia Woolf’s life was a red thread throughout this narrative, in which the author walks the river Ouse. She muses on her life and writings and keeps returning to that subject. I liked that aspect of it. It gives connection and purpose to the whole.

However, too many times the author just goes on a tangent about seemingly barely related incidences in history. I understand that all of these are connected to the landscape she is walking through, but sometimes it was as the book itself did not know what it wanted to be. It felt too haphazard, even if the the actual facts and stories were definitely interesting to me.

I don’t mind a bit of stream of consciousness and a memoir (especially a travel memoir) floating from one subject to another, but here it was a little too chaotic sometimes.

I still enjoyed it and some of it truly was really interesting, but it was just a tad too wishy-washy for my personal taste. It needed a little more focus.

3.25 out of 5 stars

CALSPIE*: 6.57

  • Characters: 6
  • Ambience: 6.5
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 6
  • Pacing: 6
  • Interest: 7
  • Enjoyment: 7

*CALSPIE is designed for fiction, but I can roughly apply it to non-fiction books. I think of characters as subject. Ambience as the tone of the book. Story as the explanation. Pacing as the length and depth to which it goes into the subjects.


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