Don’t we all occupy stretches of time that are finite yet inerasable and profound? So do we, then, accept the many possibilities of inhabiting a different self in a single lifetime? Isn’t that the true length of a person’s life? Not for how long one has lived but for the many selves one has embraced?

This question – Who am I? –clocks in every single day when you are as harmonized and unbridled as Orlando in Woolf’s novel.

Orlando’s story is like a net flung far off into the sea – and as you draw the net closer in towards you, all you find are a bunch of sea-weed in them – no great Big Fish. Because we are reminded, time and time again, that there is a Big Fish; a pinnacle that crystalizes the sole purpose of your existence. In Orlando, Woolf proves how closely and miserably what determines one’s existence is tied to one’s gender. And the language and conduct of each.

Every story is written so that a character solidifies in the mind of a reader even after the pages turn blank. The narration grants one the consciousness of a character. This places the character at the mercy of one’s gender and personality.

Woolf’s writing discredits one with the other. If you’ve read her A Room of One’s Own, you’ll know how she tackles the interiority and exteriority of gender. She mocks the aloofness of feminine and masculine roles. And in Orlando, she reshapes this narrative on a creative, intellectual, and literary footing.

Why read Orlando?

It is a portrait of a person freer than any literary character I’ve ever read. Orlando’s life is androgynous and the detached tone of writing offers an enlightened perspective on human complexity and sexuality. It is a labyrinth of many selves; as verdant and beautiful as the sound of leaves rustling in a thick forest; as magnificent as a tidal wave; and as resilient and eternal as the wind that stirs one and enrages the other.

“Everything I possess is very deep within me. One day, after speaking at last, will I still have something to live for? Or will everything I say fall short of or beyond life? I try to push away everything that is a life form. I try to isolate myself in order to find life in itself.”

Near to the Wild Heart goes beyond fiction. It is vivid, expressive, and passionate. The book cradles more than the contours of a novel. It’s like a fragile ship floating on the sea, we don’t know whether it’s abandoned, forgotten, or lost. But it still floats in a mysterious and quiet sort of way. The tides and wind push it toward the horizon; it’s a sweet and extraordinary voyage.

On reading the book, there are many things to discover about the visceral nature of the story. The writing caters to that recess of the mind which is perhaps the loneliest. The root of one’s body and soul that feels sadness and joy ruthlessly. That’s where everything is sought, isn’t it? Our reason for laughter and profound seriousness is buried and burrowed there.

I will reiterate what I said about Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. and that is that some stories aren’t stories at all. They are transient realities of dreams: more perplexing than dreams and more grounded than reality. And what you find within such stories are revealingly imaginative, melancholic, and seductive. This novel won’t cling to you for life. It has a heart and pulse of its own.

Not an eventful story but it does eternalize the ordinariness of existence. Her stream-of-consciousness narrative is electric as it is a beacon that defines the relationship between self, nature, and the passing of time. This is what makes the novel poetically metaphoric and fierce. While also illuminating the beauty of uncertainty in loving others. And to fathom everything that goes into loving yourself.

Not a lot of people have read No Longer Human and not a lot of people will. It’s not a long book, at least not by its measure, but it reads like a tragically colossal confession of the human condition.

To have read No Longer Human imparts a certain alteration in the way you look at others. Not so much because of the distasteful life of the protagonist. But because of the way Dazai sketches a deeply conflicted character and constructs around him an intrinsic and lingering indifference that drives modernity forward.

It’s intense because he throws you into this bottomless pit where, as you fall, everything that defines your being-ness of being is stripped and snatched away from you. What’s left is a ghostly face and a shadow of a body.

The book consists of several notebooks that give you a detached, revelatory perspective of the protagonist’s life. It’s objective especially because of the vivid descriptions of mental illness; he paints everything in the story including family, women, friendship, love, and the crevices in between with a ghost-like and wounded light.

This only proves the deceptive, chaotic, and desperate condition of human nature and how incomprehensible it is, absurd even, to attempt to embrace it. The story proves how deeply and cerebrally defenseless humans are in the face of what we think makes us human.

Words like “social outcast,” “wounds of a guilty conscience,” and “hellish dread of the realities of life” exhibit the dead weight one carries as a response to the indifference, despair, and adversity of human life.

As I read Camus’s Lyrical and Critical Essays, I’m reminded of the hellish maxims that the protagonist in No Longer Human invents only to contradict this artificial and bottomless façade of society. What makes this even more grotesque is the fact that Osamu Dazai drowned himself with a woman before his thirty-ninth birthday.

“I was frightened even by God. I could not believe in His love, only in His punishment. Faith. That, I felt, was the act of facing the tribunal of justice with one’s head bowed to receive the scourge of God. I could believe in hell, but it was impossible for me to believe in the existence of heaven.”