All the Lives We Ever Lived Summary and Reviews

All the Lives We Ever Lived

Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

by Katharine Smyth

All the Lives We Ever Lived by Katharine Smyth X
All the Lives We Ever Lived by Katharine Smyth
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2019
    320 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

A wise, lyrical memoir about the power of literature to help us read our own lives - and see clearly the people we love most.

Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death - a calamity that claimed her favorite person - she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.

Smyth's story moves between the New England of her childhood, Woolf's Cornish shores and Bloomsbury squares, exploring universal questions about family, loss, and homecoming. Through her inventive, highly personal reading of To the Lighthouse, and her artful adaptation of its groundbreaking structure, Smyth guides us toward a new vision of Woolf's most demanding and rewarding novel - and crafts an elegant reminder of literature's ability to clarify and console.

Braiding memoir, literary criticism, and biography, All the Lives We Ever Lived is a wholly original debut: a love letter from a daughter to her father, and from a reader to her most cherished author.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. A work of incisive observation and analysis, exquisite writing, and an attempt to determine if there is 'any revelation that could lessen loss, that could help to make the fact of death okay.'" - Kirkus

"All The Lives We Ever Lived is a lyrical memoir about Katharine Smyth's connection to Virginia Woolf's writing, and the power of literature in our darkest times." - Bustle

"I loved All the Lives We Ever Lived: its structural inventiveness, its fluid and lyrically beautiful writing - some lines made me gasp - and its often astonishing wisdom." - Jamie Quatro, author of Fire Sermon and I Want to Show You More

"All the Lives We Ever Lived is a work of vivid intelligence - a sharp love letter to the reading and relationships that shape us, and an ingenious reply to the questions Woolf asked her readers to answer for themselves." - Nell Stevens, author of Bleaker House and The Victorian and the Romantic

"Katharine Smyth has written a book that is both fiercely moving and full of bristling intelligence. All the Lives We Ever Lived isn't just a literary tour de force; it's an enlarging reminder of the evanescence of our lives. Smyth has twinned her sensibility with Woolf's to extraordinary effect. A wonderful debut." - Darcy Frey, author of The Last Shot

"A stunningly well-written, exquisitely intelligent and moving book, which deepens with each turn of the screw." - Phillip Lopate, author of A Mother's Tale

"In her brilliant debut, Katharine Smyth has done the impossible - invented a new form for the overworked genre of memoir, weaving Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse into her personal story as she absorbs the meaning of her beloved father's long illness and early death. Her prose is luxuriant and supple, but never sentimental, and her piercing insights into the dynamics of the nuclear family often profound." - Michael Scammell, author of Koestler and Solzhenitsyn

"In channeling her experience of loss through her lifelong reading of Virginia Woolf, Smyth upends the rules of a genre and delivers a book at once deeply intellectual and deeply felt, heartbreaking, funny, illuminating, and truly new." - Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days and Red, White, Blue

"Losing then finding herself in To the Lighthouse, Katharine Smyth bestows time travel between Virginia Woolf's memory and her own, reminding us that a book can open the heart." - Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter

"Remarkable...All the Lives We Ever Lived is enlightening and absolutely original, with writing that is gentle, elegant, and true." - Marcia DeSanctis, author of 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go

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Author Information

Katharine Smyth

Katharine Smyth is a graduate of Brown University. She has worked for The Paris Review and taught at Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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