I won’t talk to you about any events happening in the book. I would be spoiling you. Instead, I can tell you how it felt.
As a reader and an author myself, I felt like the writer fully understood me. Most of the quotes I have included in this review are moments I had to close the book to take in a big fresh breath of air as I felt my heart pounding; moments when I felt whole and complete. As I read it for school, I often had a pencil with me, and I tried to annotate it. Maybe that is why I also read Orlando with a critical mind, trying to analyse everything. Because of that, I was not fully into the book, I was not living with the character, as I’m used to when I read. Maybe it was also the fact that I didn’t fully understand everything. In any cases, it was another experience. And I liked it. It enabled me to highlight some important passages and to think about why they were written like that.
At times, it was funny. I can’t deny that Woolf’s sense of humour really got me, though sometimes I was unsure she was criticising through irony or if she was really feeling that way. On others, I felt sad for Orlando - the character, not the book. S/He went through some tough stuff, and s/he felt misunderstood by her/his society, even when that latter changed. It felt as if Orlando could not fit in anywhere, could not fit in any era. And I could relate to that.
I was also really happy of how the author dealt with the change of identity of her character. As I already said before, there were times when I did not know if she was using humour or not to criticise, so I chose to understand it as irony. Consequently, I might be biased, but it was satisfying to see a 20th century author understand gender identity better than some people of our century. She even uses “they” to talk momentarily about Orlando through their change of gender, proving to everyone that non-binary gender have always existed - even if we could not fully understand it before.
“The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.”
I will not lie: finishing Orlando was as hard as finishing No Country For Old Man. I endured it. By the time there were twenty pages left, I was tired of the figures of speech, the illusions, and the dream-like scenes I did not know whether they were real or the character’s hallucinations. I rushed it. I did not understand half of what I read. But in the end, I am glad I finished it anyway. I did not DNF, and that is all I am proud of.
And for those who wonder: yes, I absolutely recommend this book. Personally, I had to read it in its original version - which I prefer doing when I know the language - but it was hard. Maybe I would have enjoyed - and understood - it better if I had read it in my native language. So if you’re not fluent in English, I would also recommend either reading a translation or in a bilingual version so that you can appreciate it better. But in either case, go for it! It is an absolute must-read: it deals with gender identity and was written in the early 20th century by a woman! And if I did not convince you yet, it is well-written, full of poetry, wit, and is also well-researched, as they are a lot of historical facts; for this, I would also recommend reading it in a noted edition so that you can fully enjoy it.
“All the time she had writing the world had continued.”