Vanessa and Her Sister
By Priya Parmar
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 12/30/2014
My Rating: 4 Stars
For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a captivating novel that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, and the controversial and popular circle of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.
London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.
Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything.
E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.
The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.
A special thank you Random House Publishing Group -Ballantine and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. (Loved the front cover)!
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, takes you into the intimate world of intelligent, and creative group of friends and scholars known as, The Bloomsbury Group.
Set in Central London 1905— where we learn about the Stephen siblings, Thoby and Adrian; and the complicated relationship between the two sisters, Vanessa, age 27 (artist) and Virginia, age 23 (writer), one of tragedy and betrayal.
The Stephens, four middle class orphan siblings live in Bloomsbury. Vanessa and Thoby have taken over overseeing the family until the sisters are separated in their twenties by the death of their brother, Thoby and Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell.
The free-spirited bohemian group, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and many others get together in the home. Readers learn about the complicated relationship between the two sisters, and later competing affections.
Structured primarily as Vanessa’s diary, narrated from her POV, in the format of a scrapbook, with letters, and postcards (a nice touch) over the course of 1905-1912, involving Clive, Vanessa, (triangle) and her sister after the birth of the first Bell child.
Very distinct personalities, Vanessa is the artistic one with the less than appealing, demanding, narcissistic, jealous, mentally ill and unstable bipolar writer, Virginia—for a constant and ongoing competition between sisters.
An emotionally intense portrait of the Bloomsbury group, we are thrown into an array of famous characters. The stress and anxiety Vanessa experiences having to deal with Virginia’s neediness and insecurities is sad and frustrating, especially with the further complications of her relationship with Clive. However, found myself not very sympathizing with her as she brought a lot upon herself.
I tend to agree with some of the other reviewers-would encourage readers to read the author’s notes at the end of the book, prior to starting the book for the fact/fiction clarification. Also familiarize yourself with the list of characters at the front of the book as you will be thrown into the middle of the group once you begin reading.
Even though I am captivated by books about books, and books about writers, at times I was bored, as could not hold my attention, wanting to skip ahead. Most likely due to the depressing characters, and sometimes not a real emotional connection. Would have liked to have more of the secondary characters and Bloomsbury members flushed out with more focus; however, I realize the story is primarily about the relationship between the two different sisters.
However, giving it a 4 star rating, due to the in depth research, vividly imagined diary, a good account and writing of literary historic fiction, while capturing the essence of the time and culture and social issues— with inside views of an eccentric group of famous characters, as well as the dark, intriguing and complicated life of Virginia Wolf.