Orlando – Man/Woman/Biography/Parody I really don’t care

I have just given 12 hours of my life to Virginia Woolf’s much applauded classic Orlando: a Biography.

Usually I will gladly give 12 hours of my life to a book, sometimes even repeatedly. This time i feel like writing out a receipt, and when i get to the afterlife, I’m going to give that receipt to dear ol’ Virginia, and ask her for my 12 hours back.

I wasted 12 hours on a book with less than 200 pages. These 200 pages were split into 5 chapters. These 5 chapters covered 400 years. Yes, you read that right 400 years. Yes the title does make it seem to be a biography, but it is most definitely not!

Apparently it is meant to be a satirical parody of a biography. The big problem is, a satirical parody is usually funny, whilst i found this less funny, and more please make it end.

The main character Orlando, in my opinion is not likable nor interesting enough to be followed for half a century, never mind four centuries. Even changing his gender halfway throughout the story (for no inexplicable reason) failed to make her engage with her on any meaningful level.

At one point even the fictional biographer decides she is about as interesting as a “corpse”, and abruptly buggers off out of a window to speak of birds, flowers, trees and the changing landscape. If the biographer doesn’t give a shit about the immortal nobleman why should we?

Now i have no objections to characters who live for a long time, and whom can change gender/face on a whim, (I am a huge Doctor Who fan after all) but please give me a reason for these things. Is Orlando an alien? A Vampire? A steampunk cyborg? Any of these potential outcomes would have piqued my interest.

There is no real sense of progression of time, you don’t even know where or when you are most of the time. Are you in reality or are you in one of Orlando’s many over complex thought trains (I thought listening to Bella’s thoughts in the twilight books was annoying, Orlando makes her seem a lot more bearable).

Then when you are in reality the only way you know what decade it is, is because of whose name they are plugging the works of at the time. Or in what mode of transport Orlando is going about her tedious business in. Her lukewarm reaction to trains being invented, is only matched by his insanely calm reaction to the fact that he spontaneously grew breasts and a vagina whilst partaking in a week-long nap.

If i was to write this book i would make sure that unlike in Woolf’s version where Orlando is in Constantinople during the black plague in London. I would keep him in London, let him catch the plague and then this torture would have only lasted six hours and 100 pages. On second thoughts that still would have been too long.

The book feels like it covers 400 years and i felt like I had aged 400 years reading it. If this is a literary classic, let it remain a classic. I’ll live in the present thank you very much.



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