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By Priya Parmar
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Publication Date: 12/30/2014
My Rating: 4 Stars
A special thank you to Random House Publishing Group Ballantine and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar, takes you into the intimate world of intelligent, and creative group of friends and scholars known as, The Bloomsbury Group.
Set in Central London 1905— where we learn about the Stephen siblings, Thoby and Adrian; and the complicated relationship between the two sisters, Vanessa, age 27 (artist) and Virginia, age 23 (writer), one of tragedy and betrayal.
The Stephens, four middle class orphan siblings live in Bloomsbury. Vanessa and Thoby have taken over overseeing the family until the sisters are separated in their twenties by the death of their brother, Thoby and Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell.
The free-spirited bohemian group, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and many others get together in the home. Readers learn about the complicated relationship between the two sisters, and later competing affections.
Structured primarily as Vanessa’s diary, narrated from her POV, in the format of a scrapbook, with letters, and postcards (a nice touch) over the course of 1905-1912, involving Clive, Vanessa, (triangle) and her sister after the birth of the first Bell child.
Very distinct personalities, Vanessa is the artistic one with the less than appealing, demanding, narcissistic, jealous, mentally ill and unstable bipolar writer, Virginia—for a constant and ongoing competition between sisters.
An emotionally intense portrait of the Bloomsbury group, we are thrown into an array of famous characters. The stress and anxiety Vanessa experiences having to deal with Virginia’s neediness and insecurities is sad and frustrating, especially with the further complications of her relationship with Clive. However, found myself not very sympathizing with her as she brought a lot upon herself.
I tend to agree with some of the other reviewers-would encourage readers to read the author’s notes at the end of the book, prior to starting the book for the fact/fiction clarification. Also familiarize yourself with the list of characters at the front of the book as you will be thrown into the middle of the group once you begin reading.
Even though I am captivated by books about books, and books about writers, at times I was bored, as could not hold my attention, wanting to skip ahead. Most likely due to the depressing characters, and sometimes not a real emotional connection. Would have liked to have more of the secondary characters and Bloomsbury members flushed out with more focus; however, I realize the story is primarily of the relationship between the two different sisters.
However, giving it a 4 star rating, due to the in depth research, vividly imagined diary, a good account and writing of literary historic fiction, while capturing the essence of the time and culture and social issues— with inside views of an eccentric group of famous characters, as well as the dark, intriguing and complicated life of Virginia Wolf.