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.
Katharine’s story moves between the New England of her childhood and 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, Katharine 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.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR ALL THE LIVES WE EVER LIVED
“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. But above all, this is a smart, moving portrait of a family in crisis; Smyth weaves literary criticism and biography into nearly every page, but she never strays from the deepest concerns of the human heart.”
—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
“Modern American memoir doesn't get better—or more inventive—than this. By weaving the story of her father's death with a meditation on Virginia Woolf's great novel, 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
“In this remarkable memoir of familial love, illness, and grief, Katharine Smyth seamlessly braids her story around that of her literary idol, Virginia Woolf, and around that writer's most enduring characters. 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
“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