Vanessa and Her Sister

Vanessa and Her Sister

by Priya Parmar

Overview: What if Virginia Woolf’s sister had kept a diary? For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “an uncanny success” and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters’ glittering bohemian youth among the legendary 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.

Faith Bowers (08/22/16): At first I didn't really enjoy the book. The names of all the characters were in front but they were thrown around so rapidly and it took about 100 pages before I enjoyed what I was reading. Vanessa Bell is the older sister of Virginia Woolf. The story is about their younger single life, Vanessa's marriage and Virginia's jealousies and mental illness. Vanessa was an artist who came into her own with help of curator Roger Fry. He gave her confidence and friendship. Their young friends became famous in their work and efforts so you just weren't learning about the artists but the beginnings of the Bloomsbury group.

Ms. Parmar broke up the narrative with letters to Leonard Woolf from their friend Lytton, letters to Violet Virginia's friend, Snow, Vanessa's friend and tickets of their travels. Most of the story line is true bed on the research of the Bloomsbury Group with fictional conversations. By getting used to all the characters the story does become alive.
Rating: ***

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