Katharine Smyth

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All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

book | Non-Fiction | Feb 2019
UK & Canada → Crown Publishers (Ed. Claire Potter)

Following her father's death, Katharine Smyth turned to her favorite novel, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, as a way of making sense of her bereavement. Written out of a lifelong admiration for Woolf and her work, Katharine's story moves between the New England of her childhood and Woolf's Cornish coasts and Bloomsbury squares, addressing universal questions about family, loss, and homecoming.

But All the Lives We Ever Lived, which braids memoir, biography, and literary criticism, is also an intimate reading of one woman's talismanic text. Through her thoughtful engagement with To the Lighthouse, and her adaptation of its groundbreaking structure, Katharine guides the reader toward a deeper understanding of Woolf's most demanding and rewarding novel--and crafts an elegant reminder of literature's ability to clarify and console.

All the Lives We Ever Lived is a wholly original debut from a young writer of immense promise: a love letter from a daughter to her father, and from a reader to her most cherished author.


Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf


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: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic

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. Book clubs can pair this reading with To The Lighthouse to add some depth to the conversation, or they can discuss their own literary heroes.


This is a beautiful book about the wildness of mortal life, and the tenuous consolations of art.

Times Literary Supplement

Smyth’s beautiful debut is more tightly strung together than you’d imagine a memoir-cum-literary-requiem could be. It is innovative, like Woolf, in its power of association and its ability to transform the intangible nature of grief into a warm, graspable, fleshy mass. 


All the Lives We Ever Lived is a powerful book, driven by the engine of Smyth’s controlled, rich description. It’s an astonishingly clear-eyed portrait of a person through myriad lenses, a kind of prismatic attempt to capture a life.

Boston Globe

Smyth’s prose pulsates with intensity, and its lyrical qualities make it a moving one.

Book Page

Katharine Smyth… has more than lived up to her premise, delivering a lyrical and thoughtful examination of character, place and grief.

Providence Journal
Full Review

This is a transcendent book, not a simple meditation on one woman’s loss, but a reflection on all of our losses, on loss itself, on how to remember and commemorate our dead.

Washington Post
Full Review

In All The Lives We Ever Lived, Katharine Smyth elegantly weaves together her thoughts on the death of her father and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.


Smyth is an elegant writer and she explores her deep, complicated love for her father in lyrical yet restrained prose.

Literary Review

Acutely observed and shot through with a furious beauty it is a book that lingers long after the final page has been turned.

The i

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

It’s an experiment in 21st-century introspection that feels rooted in a modernist tradition and bracingly fresh.

Chloe Schama

Avec son dernier roman, Marie Pavlenko prouve qu’elle est vraiment une autrice de haut vol.

La Voix du Nord

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.

Starred review

Read it to conjure Woolf, yes, but also to understand how the stories we read pervade our intellectual DNA and set down roots. 

Full Review

Smyth’s writing possesses a unique ability to wend its way into your head, traveling into all the darkest corners of your mind, triggering thoughts on love and loss and family and memory you hadn’t known were lurking; it’s a profound experience, reading this book—one not to be missed.

Full Review

Katharine Smyth pulls off a tricky double homage in her beautifully written first book, a deft blend of memoir, biography and literary criticism that's a gift to readers drawn to big questions about time, memory, mortality, love and grief. 

The Wall Street Journal

Her exploration of grown-up love, the kind that accounts for who the loved one actually is, not who you want him or her to be, gains power and grace as her story unfolds. I suspect her book could itself become solace for people navigating their way through the complexities of grief for their fallen idols. And they will be lucky to have it.

The New York Times Book Review

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 of Red, White and Blue

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

Smyth is an elegant writer and she explores her deep, complicated love for her father in lyrical yet restrained prose. 

Literary Review

It is beautifully written, movingly thoughtful, and something I feel sure I will return to.

Stuck In a Book

Blending analysis of a deeply literary novel with a personal story is a high-wire act for many reasons, not least being how few readers will have read Woolf themselves. But Smyth, who earned an M.F.A. in nonfiction from Columbia, is up to the challenge, gently entwining observations from Woolf’s classic with her own layered experience.


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

All the Lives We Ever Lived is both a reflection on To the Lighthouse and a lingeringly beautiful elegy in its own right…. Smyth’s probing narrative is effortlessly entwined with reflections and digressions on Virginia Woolf and To the Lighthouse…. What her book does is add to our perception of To the Lighthouse, not through analysis or commentary, but by writing through the novel, assuming and exploring its worldview, and in the process redescribing it to us with an infectious passion and hard-earned wisdom…. In the end, the most revelatory thing about All the Lives We Ever Lived is its absence of revelation. Nothing stands still, nothing is permanent. There are just the little odds and ends to lay hold of, some sight, some sound. It is enough.

LA Review of Books

Anna Stein
+1 212 556 5600
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Translation Rights
Claire Nozieres
+44 (0)20 7393 4425
Email Claire Nozieres