Orlando by Virginia Woolf
It takes one hell of a writer to take one look at the constructs that make up the modern world and say “You know what… I’m just going to ignore all of these.” This is exactly that Virginia Woolf manages to accomplish in her magnum opus ‘Orlando’, which tells the story of an individual unbound by the natural laws of gender, class, race and time. Subtly hilarious, and scathing of conventional society, the book manages to tackle more issues than you would think possible while staying just ridiculous enough to keep readers on their toes.
I won’t dance around the subject – it’s an odd book. The term ‘suspending disbelief’ isn’t quite extensive enough to cover the distance you have to put between yourself and reality in order to stop yourself from hurling the novel across the room in exasperation. Yet, I also found that this book was disquieting for another reason – it reveals the performances that each of us play in everyday life. What’s that you say? You are an entirely authentic human being, devoid of performativity? Pick up this book and be proven wrong.
There are few books I would recommend as strongly as this one. It is hilarious, ridiculous and somehow encapsulates all the strangeness of being a human being. If you want to be transported into the crazy realm that is… well.. reality, then this is the book for you.
Different Classes by Johanna Harris
Penned by the same hand that created the masterpiece ‘Chocolat’ (which you may remember from the Johnny Depp blockbuster rather than the enchanting novel), I was eager to unveil ‘Different Classes’. The reviews promised a gripping thriller, and I was more than ready to be sucked into what looked to be one hell of a page turner.
Sadly, as prepared as they were to be knocked off, my toasty Canberrean-winter socks stayed cosily on my feet. The story itself was decent, if slightly overwritten. The author’s use of a verbose Latin professor as a protagonist can only be described as a thinly veiled excuse to whip out her thesaurus, and the result is fairly irritating at times. Shifts in perspective, narrators and medium attempt to keep the story interesting, and according to the reviews some readers certainly felt this effect.
The novel, however, left me with the feeling of anticlimax you get when you meet someone very attractive in a lecture, only to discover that they have marginally less personality than a block of wood. The twists were there, certainly, but they did not deliver the blows I was promised. Perhaps the fault lies with me – I have likely been taught to expect too much of thrillers from the likes of ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’.
I am hesitant to advise against this book, if only because its success means that quite a few people must have genuinely enjoyed it. I will, however, say this – keep your expectations low. The book may not be a show-stopper, but let’s not be too harsh, it’s no train wreck either.