Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Title: Orlando: A Biography
Author: Virginia Woolf
Genre: Classics
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Published: 1928
Pages: 192

Rating - 6 out of 10

Orlando, a sort of fictional biography, recounts the life of a young man who begins as a handsome courtier in Queen Elizabeth I's court. Hundreds of years later, he is (well for one thing, inexplicably still alive) transformed into a married, middle-aged woman.
Woolf published this book in 1928, when writing a story about a transvestite - before the word even existed - would have been highly controversial. The book is assumed to be based upon her love affair with Vita Sackville-West, which was the main reason that I had been so eager to read it.
Though I was of course swept away by Woolf's aloof, and yet delicately intimate writing style, it was not so much that I could resist forming quite a few practical questions about the story. One day, Orlando simply is described as, "now certainly a woman." How did this come about? What did Orlando think of this? Events in the story do, of course, hint answers to these questions, but nothing is ever expressed concretely. I often felt confused about Orlando, not sure how to picture him/her, and unsure of his identity or state of mind. She leaves much to assumption and imagination, and the plot is loosely held together by the main character's lifespan. The book wanders through time, much like the character herself / himself.
The wording of "Orlando" is gorgeous - rippling along in metaphors and comparisons of poetic license, hazy and dream-like.

A beautiful book unlike any other that I have read.