I’m still not sure what to make of Virginia Woolf. She has a cult following but I can’t say I’m really sold on her yet.
Before reading Orlando, I’d read three of Woolf’s books, one I really loved, two I didn’t really get. I read Orlando as part of a readalong and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.I The style is definitely different from the other Woolf books I’ve read so far. What stood out for me was the beautiful use of the language, maybe more than the story. The novel had an almost fairytale-like feel to it, and I was definitely enchanted from the start.
I don’t think the following is a spoiler as it is included in the book’s blurb : this book is about a 16 year old boy, Orlando, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who one day wakes up to find that he has become a woman! The investigation of gender following Orlando’s metamorphosis is especially amazing as now it is widely accepted that gender is a societal construct. I really feel Woolf was way ahead of her time.
The book was written in an experimental biographical style, and the biographer threw in a lot of humour and wit that caused me to burst out laughing more than once. It is also satirical which I loved, especially the part where Orlando shows her calf to a sailor, who almost falls to his death! Also, the challenges and insight of writing a biography are included, things I had never really considered previously. Here’s a quote:
“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story on detail; how he wrote it and it seemed good; read it and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”
The book was so surreal at times especially as it wasn’t restricted by either gender or time. I feel that, as straight-forward as the story is to read, there are so many issues incorporated that I think there are also as many different approaches for reading this book.