Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

It’s hard to even begin to describe Orlando. It’s such a weird book, but that’s not to say it isn’t good, because it is actually amazing. It starts as if it’s a fairly straight autobiography of a man named Orlando living in Elizabethan England, but slowly and surely things start to become a little weird. Firstly, when Orlando magically becomes a woman (a process which they take in their stride and which barely bothers them at all) and, secondly, when they continue to live for such a long time (literally hundreds of years) and are clearly not aging – although, again, they are not surprised by this and even the people they interact with seem unsurprised.

So, yeah, that’s what this book is about. I’m sure to some people it might sound a little artsy and pretentious, but I love it. Orlando is a very interesting character who changes very much as the story progresses (and not just in terms of gender!) I enjoyed their reflections on the ways the country changed over time and how the literary world changed alongside it. You even get Alexander Pope appearing as a character. As someone who loves discussing literature, Orlando’s unique immortal perspectives were a joy to read.

Meanwhile, Orlando changing from man to woman also brings with it several interesting points of reflection. They remember how they used to interact with women when they were a man, they reflect on the different things they can do as each gender and even take the time to think about which they think they liked being most! They also think about their sexuality and the implications of their changing sex and what their desires truly are. Again – stuff I love reading.

Overall, it’s pretty darn great, but I suppose I have to mention that it’s not without its flaws. The chapters are all very long, so it’s not a book you can quickly sit down and read for ten minutes in a busy day, you need to put aside at least an hour. That’s fine if you’re not bothered about reading less than a chapter at a time, but a bit frustrating if, like me, you always like to leave off at a chapter end. Also, a product of its time, I did feel a little uncomfortable from time to time due to the casual racism that pops up occasionally – which is probably the biggest issue with this otherwise fantastic novel.

But I wouldn’t want the last impression that I leave of this to be negative. I loved this book. There was a dream-like quality to it, where everything seems to blend together even though hundreds of years were passing. Orlando was so strange and mysterious and I must say that they are now among my favourite literary characters. Reading the tale of Orlando’s life in England and across the world was thoroughly enjoyable and it’s a book I can strongly recommend.

Rating: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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