The Book That Made Me: Orlando

Author Helen Dunmore tells us about discovering a Virginia Woolf classic


The Book That Made Me: Orlando

‘I first read Orlando in my early teens and still possess the same copy, with its tiny print and crumbling spine.

One of the things I like best about my favourite books is the way they are transformed each time I read them, and yet they are also the same.

At 13, I read Orlando with breathless amazement: it was so rich, lavish, seductive. I missed most of the allusions, and didn't understand that as well as being a brilliant novella, it is also a love letter to the woman who captured Virginia Woolf's imagination.

Orlando, the character, lives through centuries and is forever young. Orlando is lusty, vital, melancholy, innocent, enchanting and ridiculous.

What strikes me now is how brilliantly Woolf explores gender – Orlando is a man and then she is a woman – years before the term “gender fluidity” became common, Woolf dramatised the concept with breathtaking eloquence.

I hope that when I'm in my eighties, I'll still be able to read my battered paperback and revel in Orlando's transformations.’

Exposure by Helen Dunmore (Hutchinson, £16.99) is out now