"The Waves, though Woolf's most experimental piece of writing, is nevertheless endlessly rewarding. It shares many of the preoccupations of her other novels: experiments with time and narrative; the representation of lives in biographical writing; and the unfixing of identities. It also pushes the 'stream of consciousness' in new directions: becoming an exploration of the relationship between inner life and the 'impersonal' elements of waves and water, rather than a narrative technique.
Woolf uses the time-span of a day to explore the temporality of a life, or lives -- the movement of the waves defines the passage from dawn to dusk and provides a structure for the novel. It was conceived as 'prose yet poetry' -- the six selves of the novel are represented by 'dramatic soliloquies,' and interspersed with 'poetic interludes' that describe the passage of the sun across the sky and the rhythms of the tide.
The Waves traces the six lives from childhood to middle age, but seeks to show continuities rather than developments. 'We are not single,' as Bernard (the novel's chief chronicler) remarks. The characters speak their thoughts as separate entities, rarely in dialogue, yet the novel brings them together by listening in at synchronous moments in their lives and by regrouping them at various stages. The Waves is concerned with the experience and articulation of identity through a fascinating discourse that cannot be named as speech or as thought."