Title: Vanessa and Her Sister
Author: Priya Parmar
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Books
Date of Publication: 30 December 2014
Number of Pages: 368
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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.
Review: Parmar write so well and so vividly I wish I had come to her writing sooner. It is the strength and quality of Parmar’s writing that saves Vanessa and Her Sister.
I am curious why Parmar decided to write this novel as a series of journal entries. This is a brave move as the primary narrator needs to be a believable and powerful voice to hold the interest of the reader. Up until about the 60% mark, Vanessa tells the story well but then she devolves, becoming rather tiresome. The other risk with this choice is the completely necessary need for dialogue to move the rest of the characters on. I do journal. I do occasionally record things that people have said to me or comments I’ve heard but I don’t record full conversations with any kind of frequency. I did find it a bit strange.
Vanessa and Her Sister was a nice step away from everything being about Virginia. The telling of Virginia’s mania didn’t sit well with me. Large parts of the text read as though she were simply spoilt and babied rather than someone with a very pronounced history of depression. Virginia is also depicted as a manipulative bitch who tries to make everything about her. A narcissist who tries to ingratiate herself into relationships where she has no right to be. I admit I don’t know that much about Virginia Woolf, so this portrayal might be accurate. I hope not.
The Thursdays, and later, Fridays at home are a facet I would have liked to see developed further. The intellects in attendance at these gatherings are astonishing. To have been at one of these evenings and simply listened to the conversations, would have been amazing. I realise writing something like this would be challenging and one evening could almost be a book itself. I think this reveals how much I enjoy snooping in the lives of famous people.
Overall, I did enjoy this book but I think there are better ways of telling the story of the Bloomsbury Group. It would also have worked better if Lytton Strachey, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Roger Fry et al, had been given a strong voice. My concluding thought on Virginia and Her Sister is that Vanessa was the dull one of the group and the others were far more interesting.
Thank you for all your hard work, Priya. I can’t wait to read what you produce next.