Anything could happen…reading Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf.

Well, having had a bit of a head-start on this one (by virtue of the fact that I had already begun reading prior to my brother  suggesting the blog), I am well on my way through the book.

It’s a curious one, to say the least. Having previously read other books by Virginia Woolf (and liked them) I thought I had a pretty good idea of the type of book to expect. I’ve been surprised. I chose Orlando having seen Jeanette Winterson – another of my favourite writers – recommend it as a book that meant a lot to her on the BBC’s week of books programmes. Winterson said that when she read Orlando, prior to her becoming an author, it inspired her and made her think ‘that’s how I want to write’- and it’s very easy to see the similarity.

Orlando, or Orlando: A Biography to give it its full title, is beautifully and unexpectedly written.  It does tend towards Woolf’s stream of consciousness style of writing, but by no means as much so as Mrs Dalloway or To The Lighthouse, for example. Ostensibly it’s far less serious than the other Woolf novels I’ve read, yet at the same time cleverly confronts some big issues head-on. At times Woolf, or Orlando’s biographer as the narrator describes themself, directly addresses the reader, something I’ve always been fond of…and a device that seems to be used less and less these days. Thumbs up so far.

There’s no predicting the plot of this book, least of all because the story world does not abide by the same rules and confines of our own. The ‘biographer’ is always keen to emphasise their responsibility to the reader to convey facts and truth, and yet the story being told is more than a little bit fantastical. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but suffice to say not many protagonists go to bed a man and wake up a woman…just when you thought you were starting to ‘get it’. Anything could, and probably will, happen. As for the often cited feminism of the book, well, I’ll have to keep thinking on that one; especially since the Duke – ‘…Orlando was a man till the age of thirty; when he became a woman…’ – is now wearing a skirt and pearls.

Anyway, so far so good. Brownie points for engaging and striking language, unusual narration and a consciously chronological – but by no means linear – story. Goodness knows what’s going to happen before the end – sixty-ish pages to go – I’ll keep you posted.

On a positive/negative note, depending upon your viewpoint, I’m beginning to see that what with all this reading I’ll have to seriously neglect my Minesweeper obsession. C’est la vie. As for the tea addiction, even though Orlando isn’t a fan of it…I’ll just pop the kettle on.


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Filed under 20th century, Books, Fiction, Novel, Virginia Woolf

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