Monday, January 5, 2015

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

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.

Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Published December 30th 2014 by Ballantine Books 
copy provided by publisher via netgalley
*** (I liked it)

Beginning in 1905 this book is told through diary entries by Vanessa as well as telegrams and postcards.  I struggled at the beginning to get involved with this book, mainly because of the large cast of characters, names that I was unfamiliar with.  There is a 'who's who' at the beginning but I always have a hard time with that when reading an ebook.

Once I got on track it didn't take long to get immersed in this book. The author was able to portray Vanessa in such a way that I had no problem feeling empathy for her and her situation. Dealing with her husband, Clive and then the problems with her sister Virginia, I would have loved to have heard from both of them just to see what made them tick, especially Virginia. Though I know very little about her, just that she is an author, I am now curious about her life.  Her relationship with her sister is written in a realistic manner showing what Vanessa endured and had to put up all the while balancing marriage, motherhood and her painting.

The book ended a little too soon for my liking, another 10 years of their lives would have been nice.  By the end I was really invested and sad to see it end, from what I read online it sounds like the next years were rather interesting as well.


Advance praise for Vanessa and Her Sister

“Priya Parmar is on a high-wire act all her own in this radiantly original novel about the Bloomsbury Set. Irrepressible, with charm and brio to spare, Vanessa and Her Sister boldly invites us to that moment in history when famous minds sparked and collided, shaping the terrain of art and letters. But it’s the two sisters who are most bewitching here—rocking on the brink of unforgivable transgression, changing each other in ways far-reaching and profound. Prepare to be dazzled.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

“With sparkling wit and insight, Priya Parmar sets us down into the legendary Bloomsbury household of the Stephen siblings, where sisters Vanessa and Virginia vie for love and primacy amid a collection of eccentric guests. Vanessa and Her Sister kidnapped me for a couple of days. I couldn’t put it down.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

“This is the novel I didn’t know I was waiting for, and it is, quite simply, astonishing. Not just because of Priya Parmar’s preternatural skill at evoking the moment when the lid was coming off the Victorians and the heated talk about art, life, and sex swirled through Bloomsbury, but because of how she has caught the two sisters at the center of that swirl—the women who would become Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Vanessa and Her Sister is beautiful and wise, and as deft as a stroke upon the canvas.”—Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress

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