Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oh sad, so sad, how little I have to add to this list after nearly two months. The thing is, I had something happen to me that doesn't happen often; I started a book and didn't finish it. It was an Arthurian themed book, but I found it so laden with Celtic references that had little to do with anything except that they're there, that the book dragged on and I just couldn't get in to it. It was written by a very prominent Celtic scholar, but honestly, I felt like he was throwing all the Celtic references in there just to show off, not that they added anything.

But that's neither here nor there. I didn't finish a book, instead I lost myself in some re-reads (which I don't count towards my year totals any longer), and have only read one new book in the meantime. Sigh.

Number 22 this year is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I picked up this book only because I had heard of it before, and because Orlando was one of those used by Alan Moore in his latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. So, when I saw this novel in a used bookstore in Thunder Bay, I grabbed it.

My previous brush with Virginia Woolf took place way back in 2nd year university when I had to read To the Lighthouse for Contemporary Literature. I don't remember much about the book now, I really only remember not particularly liking it very much.

However, I did like Orlando.

Orlando is about a young man born to a wealthy, noble family in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, who decides not to grow old. Strangely enough, he does not (and I don't think it is ever really explained why he doesn't), and he passes through the ages as a young man ... until he wakes up one morning to find that he has metamorphosed into a woman -- the same person, with the same personality and intellect, but in a woman's body. The remaining centuries up to the time the book was written are seen through a woman's eyes.

It's an odd book for sure, but I realized I liked it because of it's slightly weird narrative, which is supposed to be written as a 'biography', but of course, Orlando's voice also comes through very clear and loud. The narrative can be almost stream of concious like as Orlando waxes poetic on... well poetry, or love, or life, etc. But the most fascinating thing about this novel is definitely the gender switch, where previously male Orlando begins to live his life as a woman. She doesn't seem to like being a woman for awhile, but also does come to appreciate the feminine, but, he appreciates it from a male point of view. Which seems strange, given that the book was written by a woman. Even when Orlando has a child, the whole pregnancy and birth are given perhaps a page's worth of mention. For someone such as Orlando, who seemed so caught up in the idea of immortality (not aging, writing something grand and profound), you'd think that leaving behind offspring would be explored more as a form of immortality, but nope, nada.

Anyway, this novel is also very tied up in poetry and literature and the creation of both. Orlando desperately wants to create literature and works on a single poem, the Oak Tree, for hundreds of years, but seemingly never feels it is quite good enough. He/she becomes patrons of various poets and usually always ends up disenchanted with those who create poetry, but nonetheless, she is always drawn back to it. Certain real life poets make appearances as characters as well, and it made me wonder if how they're represented in Orlando is how Woolf herself felt about them.

As I said, I liked Orlando. It felt strangely whimsical without being overly weighty and important. Even though I can, through the strange narrative and the gender/feminist issues, see how important this novel is.