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review 2016-02-13 05:40
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel - Priya Parmar


Priya Parmar

Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Ballantine Books (first published February 12th 2015)
ISBN: 0804176396 (ISBN13: 9780804176392) 



This was a very interesting book to read. A novel, from Vanessa's point of view, about her sister, Virginia Wolff, and the 2 brothers. The author portrays the characters and their friends as a close group, discussing everything from art to writing, marriage, and even sexuality. Parmar also utilizes diaries and all types of correspondence between the characters to tell the story. I enjoyed how this worked for the book. Even though the story is mainly diary pages for Vanessa, the correspondence shows so much of the other characters and fit well


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review 2015-12-29 02:58
Vanessa and Her Sister
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel - Priya Parmar

I chose this book because it was recommended for fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, two books I really enjoyed as much for their writing as for the historical nature of their themes. By the time this made it to the top of my to-read pile, I had forgotten what it was about. When I finally started, I realized this was one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” novels. The story revolves around the group of luminaries later known as the Bloomsbury group, and, at its center, Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Stephen (later, Woolf).


Vanessa is a talented painter who also cultivates talent in others. With her brothers and sister, she opens their home to a group of artists who will later achieve great fame and fortune: E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey, among others. As I read, I bookmarked a few things I found amazing – for example, at one time Picasso burned his own drawings because he could not afford coal. This novel was a terrific prequel to many stories we know that begin only with success.


I have read several of Virginia Woolf’s novels, and now I want to re-read them with this new knowledge I have of her. I don’t know why, but before reading this I was under the impression that she had been a successful writer who had a nervous breakdown, but that was obviously not the case. Virginia was the damaged, sheltered baby in her family, and, when her parents died, she really ruled the roost. Her whims determined how everyone else lived, and she developed obsessive attachments to friends and family alike. It was scary reading parts of this book, especially the lengths she would go to get what she wanted. I understood why Vanessa was named in the title — for me she was the far more interesting character. She was forced to compromise in so many ways throughout her life in an attempt to manage Virginia’s illness; it was amazing to me that she was ever able to develop a career of her own. I loved this book for the lesser-known parts of the story it presented, and for the deft way the author wove the facts into her narrative. There is a real sense of place here, and for me, it captured an amazing time – the moment just before all of these people came into their own, when, as a group, they encouraged and shared and became something even greater.

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text 2015-07-28 16:00
Top Ten Tuesday: July 28
My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead
Doctor Who: A History - Alan Kistler
Uprooted - Naomi Novik
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery - Kurtis J. Wiebe,Tess Fowler
Lumberjanes Volume 1 - Noelle Stevenson,Grace Ellis
His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik
Searching for Jane Austen - Emily Auerbach
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel - Priya Parmar
Blue Is the Warmest Color - Julie Maroh
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar - Cheryl Strayed

I’ve gotten my dates mixed up, and posted today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic back in June. So I’ve swapped the dates, and have decided to do the one that would have fallen on June 30th today. Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015:


 My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead. A meditation on the power a single book can have throughout our lives, and how it changes with each new encounter.


Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler. The title pretty much says it all, but it is important to note that this isn’t fan history with commentary, but an objective one that tries to cover just the facts and chronology of the show/phenomenon.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik. One of the best fantasy stories I’ve read in a long time, focusing on Eastern European mythology and the power of friendship over romance or heroism.


Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery. by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. As someone who used to play a lot of D&D, this comic couldn’t be more perfect. I love the female cast at its heart, and the very adult humor.


Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen. Like Rat Queens, Lumberjanes is a comic about female friendship. Unlike Rat Queens, it is appropriate for pretty much all ages. It centers around a group of friends at a very unusual summer camp and their adventures as they get caught up in a plot straight out of Greek mythology.


His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. Fantasy alternate history, set in the Napoleonic wars, only with dragons.


Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Aurbach. This is an extremely well-researched and structured analysis of why we need to take Jane Austen back from the biographers and bowlderizers that have made her “safe,” and recognize her as the biting satirist and social commentator she was.


Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar. A fictionalized account of the (possibly) fraught relationship between painter Vanessa Bell and her more famous sister, Virginia Woolf. This book broke my heart a little.


Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh. One of the most beautiful love stories I have read in a very, very long time. I know the movie is most famous for the long sex scene, but this story is not some voyeuristic soft-core lesbian story.


Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I want Cheryl Strayed to be my best friend. Her “advice” is more meditations on life than Dear Abby-style responses.


(Original Top Ten Tuesday concept from The Broke and the Bookish)

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review 2015-02-03 01:51
Vanessa and her sister
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel - Priya Parmar

Starting in 1904, this novel spans six years in the life of the Stephen family and the very talented members who make up the Bloomsbury group. I loved this book and loved that the novel is told from the journal or diary writings of Vanessa Bell. Additional letters from other members of the group along with telegrams and other travel paraphernalia, gave such a personal look at these amazing people and the beginnings of their success. Would love to been at their intellectual evenings discussing paintings and literature. Though I think having people around all the time must have been wearying at times.

Loved reading about Vanessa and her life, looked up illustrations of some of her paintings, which I liked immensely. Vanessa was the true touchstone of the family, always watching over Virginia's moods, though Virginia's possessiveness would cause a permanent rift between her and her sister. Loved that the author included at the end of the novel, a look at the personal and professional happenings of all on this group. Also a note telling the reader what actually happened and what was her invention. That much of this book was based in fact shows the huge amount of research that went into this novel's writing. Would have happily kept reading had the novel been longer, I was absolutely fascinated.

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review 2015-02-01 15:10
Review: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel - Priya Parmar

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.


Published by Ballantine Books, December 30, 2014


Thousands, probably millions, of words have been written about the figures in and around the Bloomsbury Group, and no one has probably been examined and reprised more than Virginia Woolf. But this isn’t Virginia’s story; it belongs to her sister Vanessa, despite Virginia’s every effort to coopt it. Vanessa and her Sister takes place in the years between 1905 and 1912, essentially covering the ground from the Stephen family’s move to the iconic Bloomsbury neighborhood, to Virginia’s marriage to Leonard Woolf. Constructed as a cross between a journal and an epistolary novel, it is primarily in Vanessa’s voice, but often incorporates letters, telegrams and postcards from other significant figures, like Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, and, of course, Virginia.


The title may not include Virginia’s name, but this is certainly Vanessa’s story in relation to her. We hear about Vanessa’s dreams of being an artist, her marriage, motherhood, and various friendships, but it is always Vanessa’s fraught relationship with her sister that holds the spotlight and warps everything around it. I know this is historical fiction and Parmar takes liberties with the characters, particularly as Vanessa left very little writing to extrapolate from, but throughout this book it is impossible not to HATE VIRGINIA WOOLF for most of the novel. I never thought I would write that, but there it is.


Not long after Vanessa Stephen married her brother’s friend Clive Bell, Virginia and Clive entered into a liaison of sorts. As far as I can tell (and I am certainly no Woolf scholar), biographers disagree about the nature and degree of their attachment; some say it was an emotional affair, others that it was merely a flirtatious friendship. Vanessa, in Parmar’s telling, certainly sees it as a real affair, and neither Virginia nor Clive comes out looking very good. Of course, much of Virginia’s behavior is based on her notoriously imbalanced mental state, but in the novel she is unbearably selfish and childlike, and Vanessa is wary of her. To be loved by someone like Virginia is more of a curse than a blessing. Madness (or potential madness) may be tragically glamorous in later telling, but it can be nothing but infuriating as it manifests in daily life and forces everyone else to dance around it or be damned. Parmar’s ventriloquism as Vanessa is very convincing; I had an almost visceral emotional response to her feelings of betrayal and confusion as motherhood overtook her life and her husband turned to her own sister for solace.


Virginia’s motivations for disrupting her sister’s marriage are perhaps the more disturbing because she is not dedicated to stealing Clive for his affection or presence, but rather to separate him from Vanessa so she can have her sister all to herself. Virginia’s love for Vanessa borders on the incestuous in its intensity and single-minded pursuit to destroy anything that threatens to come between them. Again, definite liberties are taken, as biographers generally agree that Virginia loved her nieces and nephews, while in this version of events she refers to them as “parasites” when they take Vanessa’s attention away. But the drama is rich and believable, even if we assume it was heightened for effect.


Other famous figures of the Bloomsbury Group make appearances throughout, and their presence gives shape to a book that could have otherwise drowned in the high drama of lovers and betrayal if left to Vanessa’s experience alone. Lytton Strachey, with his bitchy, proto-camp personality is particularly wonderful, and Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, Lady Ottoline Morrell- and others I’m sure I’ve forgotten- all make appearances. Aside from Vanessa’s journal and letters from her and Virginia, there is a recreation of the correspondence between Strachey and Leonard Woolf, in which Strachey repeatedly tries to convince Woolf to marry Virginia. Of course, he does marry her, and there is a note of hope at the end of the book, as Virginia finds someone of “her own” and Vanessa enters into a love affair with art critic Roger Fry and has her work entered in one of his famous and controversial Post-Impressionist shows. While the relationship dynamics are the focus of the book, it never forgets that Vanessa is a painter and Virginia a writer- their work is always there, even if it is in the background.


History has no written record of Vanessa’s private thoughts and she never mentioned the affair between Virginia and Clive in any of her letters. In the author’s note at the end of the novel, Parmar explains where she deviated from known record, and her story hinges on vague but telling details collected from Virginia’s letters and family recollections. To have begun with an event that most biographers only mention in passing, Parmar has constructed a powerful, emotionally convincing account of the lives of the Bloomsbury Group and has given a voice to the most enigmatic of them all. We may never know the whole truth about Vanessa and Virginia’s relationship, but as long as it provides the foundation for fiction as enjoyable as this, that’s just fine with me. Sometimes, the truth is overrated.


Cross-posted at Goodreads: Vanessa and Her Sister

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