cover image Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep

Madison Smartt Bell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-15-126100-0

They start slowly, these journals, as the 15-year-old Woolf scratches out her record of personal and familial comings and goings, but they quickly acquire amplitude and content, as well as humor, as Woolf develops her powers of observation along with her style. There are references, mostly oblique, to family tragedies (Woolf had a bout with madness after the deaths of her mother and father, the noted Victorian scholar Leslie Stephen); limpid descriptions of the English countryside and its architectural adornments; lively essays inspired by her travels in Europe, particularly Greece; and, throughout, a swelling sense of literary professionalism. There is also a poignant and strangely prophetic meditation on a woman who committed suicide by drowning. Noted Woolf scholar Leaska provides a solid introduction, and the title he gives his scrupulously edited book seems exactly right. (Feb.)