Orlando is the fictionalized biography of a unique Elizabethan nobleman. At first it seems a conventional biography, following the adventures and loves of this young man - but things quickly take a detour and before the reader can catch their breath, he has become a she!
Virginia Woolf is an excellent writer. Her prose is flowing and graphic, and she has a wry sense of humor that comes across superbly in this book. She narrates the story in such a manner that you don't even wonder about the science behind Orlando's transformation. You simply accept it as a normal stage of development and continue on with the tale. By the end of the play, the year is 1920, and Orlando is just as intriguing as she (formally he) was back when Queen Elizabeth first winked at him. Along the way Orlando has many exotic adventures including the odd sword fight, falls in love with several women, and even has a baby!
If you've read much of Woolf's work, you will find this unlike any of her other novels. Although it is written with the same flare and unparalleled wit that she applied to all her works, Orlando is definitely not one of her normal 'literary' works. Rather it is a gay romp through history, poking fun at the roles of men and women. Along the way she also highlights some of the disparities between the sexes and the absurd ways that men and women often act toward each other.
So how to classify this book? Technically, it is literary fiction, but that sounds so stuffy for a book that is pure fun! In many regards Orlando can pass as a science fiction or fantasy book. It is also a comedy, and a work of social commentary. Apparently it can also pass as a nonfiction biography, because I have found this book marked as a biography and shelved in the nonfiction section in a couple of libraries. No matter how you classify Orlando, and I'll leave it up to you to make your own decision in this matter, I think that you will find this book to be a delight to read. However, you'll have to take my recommendation with a grain of salt - Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers, so I might be a little biased:)
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Unfortunately, the large print edition of Orlando is currently out-of-print.
This books is still available in standard print. As well, Orlando was made into a movie staring Tilda Swinton. It is available in both VHS
and DVD formats.
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