Orlando (AudiobookFormat, 2005, Audible Studios) 4 stars

In her most exuberant, most fanciful novel, Woolf has created a character liberated from the …

Wonderfully bizarre

4 stars

I deliberately didn't read up about Orlando before I started listening to my Audible download because I didn't want to be be distracted by trying to fit facts of Woolf's life with Vita Sackville-West into whatever the story would bring. I think I made the right decision - and probably wouldn't have got the references anyway! Orlando is written as the biography of an Elizabethan boy who ages only twenty-odd years while the rest of the world advances by several hundred years. Oh, and Orlando also becomes a woman. As you do.

I absolutely adored Woolf's descriptions of Elizabethan England. Her prose when she allows it to run away with her is sublime and many times I felt as if I were really there. My audio was narrated by Clare Higgins who does a fantastic job throughout, especially during such passages. Other highlights for me were the encroachment of the damp and the sudden sweep of the Victorians. However, I wasn't convinced by the Turkish Gypsy episodes and felt they lacked the same immediacy, and the writing seemed to lose structure towards the very end, probably deliberately, but I thought this made the conclusions tough to follow.

Recurring characters made it seem perfectly natural that Orlando aged so slowly and the story never came across as contrived which, having just reread my two line synopsis, is pretty amazing! The poet Nicholas Greene and his Groundhog Day pronouncements showed just how far people haven't come in so many years. And the same is true of Orlando's androgynous outlook which Woolf uses to great effect to show the restrictions placed on women by societies that revere and patronise concurrently.

I enjoyed listening to Orlando and would even wish that it had been longer. There is a lot of humour, which I hadn't expected, and it didn't seem to matter that I didn't recognise the real people behind many of the characters. The story can be appreciated on its own terms with further layers of understanding added by Googling later.