NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, October 31, 2014

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

4.0 out of 5 stars "Hope is an unbreakable habit."

At the moment of finishing, I was overwhelmed by this book and needed to let all of the nuances and ramifications settle before I wrote a review. If I look at this as fiction, it is simply an amazingly good story -- but since I'm no literary historian, I can't speak to the veracity of this account of the lives of Virgina Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Wow.

This is not a fast paced narrative, but one that builds slowly with a crescendo simmering until it rises and crashes against a preconceived notion of what family means and how betrayal can destroy a relationship.

Vanessa is the older sister to Virginia Stephen Woolf and they live in Bloomsbury circa 1905 where they entertain the elitist intellectuals, writers, artists and acquaintances of their older brother, Julian Thoby, a Cambridge graduate and lawyer. Since they are orphans, they've adopted an unusual style of having friends over for evenings of discussion and passionate argument. Virginia is very attached to Vanessa, and this story is told in the form of diary entries and includes other forms of communication such as telegrams and replications of tickets and purchase orders. The reader sees a snapshot of their lives -- sometimes momentous things happen with little fanfare and the narrator isn't always as forthcoming with details as one would like. The author includes a cast of characters that is important because there are many people to keep track of -- all the famous names of the period.

Do you have a sister? I have 4 of them and I was quite aghast at the situation that develops between Vanessa and Virginia. I read other sources to get a few different points of view about the accuracy of the events described in this book and if true, I can say that I'm glad I didn't have a sister like Virginia. It's fairly well accepted that she did suffer mental illness but not much was known about effective treatment at the time and she definitely took a large piece of her loved ones with her when she committed suicide.

I enjoyed the novel and this view of the Stephen sisters in their everyday lives. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a view of Virginia Woolf told from her sister's point of view.
Amazon Vine ARC and e-book courtesy of NetGalley and publisher for review.

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