Monday, June 15, 2015
Vanessa and Her Sister (Book Review)
If you are compiling your annual list of summer reads, be sure to include Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel. This book is like a fun little literary vacation - it transports you straight into that legendary inner circle known as the Bloomsbury Group. The novel covers the period from 1905 to 1912 and is written mainly through diary entries from Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), painter sister of celebrated writer Virginia Woolf.
Oh Virginia. I confess that, although I studied her novels in university, I didn't know a whole lot about the life of Virginia Woolf. I knew that she killed herself in the end, of course, but I had no idea about the challenges she created in her circle of family and friends in her earlier years. Brilliant, captivating, attractive and struggling with mental illness, she had quite an effect on those around her.
The second novel by writer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister is smart, interesting and engaging. It shines a light on the complex, often difficult relationship between Vanessa and her (very clingy) sister. With their parents gone, siblings Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian have taken up residence together in a new home in London's bohemian Bloomsbury neighbourhood. It is here that they hold weekly parties for their talented, artistic and interesting friends - friends like E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey.
But when Vanessa falls in love and starts a family, Virginia mourns the loss of her sister's constant attention - with serious consequences. The story then follows Vanessa's struggle to find her own happiness in the shadow of her extraordinary and difficult sibling. Like all enjoyable novels, Vanessa and Her Sister left me wanting more. Although there is a short factual summary of each of the character's lives at the end of the book, I would have preferred a longer novel. Or maybe even a part two!
If fictionalized stories about famous artists and writers are your cup of tea, this one's for you!
Order Vanessa and Her Sister in Canada or the the U.S.
What's on your summer reading list?
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