Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

With wild colours and surprising strokes, Woolf uniquely paints the multifaceted and morphing nature of people, history, personalities, gender, sex and sexuality.

Woolf does this with similarly-sized spoonfuls of humour, bizarreness and darkness. In some ways, Orlando is a relatable character; in other ways – not so much. Personally, I can kinda relate to the protagonist’s insatiable hunger for solitude, freedom and creativity, as well as a fervent love of nature… But not much else. One striking thing in particular I could not relate to was Orlando calmly chopping off heads (violently, surprisingly and unnaturally contrasting against Orlando’s love for nature)!

Woolf’s writing weeps at the turn of the century and her characters dually fear and willingly embrace different aspects of change. Literature-loving Orlando is shocked by the change of writing styles as the century turns its head and reveals something new; yet, when Orlando changes sex and becomes a woman, she barely batts an eyelid!

I love Woolf’s use of language in this novel. Sometimes it is soft, gentle and beautiful – on other occasions, shocking, hard-hitting and face-slapping – other times, convulsing, complex and hard to make sense of.

Interestingly, each of these die faces of her language parallel the complexity of her protagonist. Woolf seems to additionally allude to the idea that we are all complex, and as time changes, literature, industry, fashion and technology, we ourselves are changed. We are many-layered and fluid. Time perpetually rolls the dice and changes our face. To me, this is what Woolf seems to convey, anyway.

Woolf’s writing ebbs and flows: it fluctuates with strong tides, calm shores, riptides and placidity – mirroring the change of Orlando at the time.

Orlando is a beautifully bizarre read and is extremely forward-thinking for its time. It was written almost 100 years ago, yet features topics that are prominent today.

Topics aside, I recommend this book for a variety of reasons. Even if just to get a whiff of Woolf’s writing style.

Woolf’s wild turn of phrase made me incessantly turn each page.

Enjoy.

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