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Vanessa and Her Sister

by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar X
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2014, 368 pages
    Oct 2015, 368 pages

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Diane S.

Vanessa and her sister
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.
Jean N. (New Richmond, OH)

Vanessa and Her Sister
Without the list of "who's who" at the beginning of the book, I would have been totally lost. It was slow going at first, but the book picked up after being initially confusing. I'm glad that I kept reading, because it turned out to be a fascinating look into the lives and minds of this artistic and literary group of people who became known as the Bloomsbury Group. Throughout the book loomed the relationship of the two sisters, Vanessa and Virginia. Their love/hate, conflicted relationship was a story of it's own.
Judy B. (Marysville, OH)

I loved this book!
I was so excited to read this book because I am a long-time devoted reader of all things Virginia Woolf, including reading the 6 volumes of her letters and the 5 volumes of her diary--twice! (I know, get a life!)

Priya Parmar's book is beautifully written. She gives us the imagined point of view of the non-writer, silent sister, Vanessa, a painter who has always been in the shadow of her famous writer sister, Virginia. Vanessa is writing about the years 1905 to 1912, when both women were coming into their adulthood, their art, and their marriages, and when their close relationship to each other began to change drastically, perhaps driven by the pressures of coping with terrible family tragedies.

There is much more to this book--the whole Bloomsbury group of the sisters' friends and fellow artists appear in all their individual and quirky colors--but I especially love the irony that Vanessa is given a voice that soars and sings with humor, insight, and brilliance, qualities traditionally recognized only in her sister Virginia.
Marie A. (Warner, NH)

A View Into The Lives of the Bloomsbury Group
Priya Parmar does a commendable job in weaving fact with fiction in VANESSA AND HER SISTER. The author's technique of Vanessa's journal entries and correspondence via letters and telegrams among members of the Bloomsbury group adds to the uniqueness of this novel.
Interestingly, by showing the familiarity among members of the group, the author invites the reader to witness the most intimate details of each individual's character, personality, foibles, and relationships. Furthermore, Parmar gives us a view into the mores, the privileged lifestyles, and the many talents of those real life intellectuals and artists of the early 1900's in London, a view I thoroughly enjoyed.
The main thrust, though, is the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia; because of Virginia's possessiveness, jealousy, and bouts with depression, their relationship is never mended--as Vanessa's words to Virginia indicate: "There can be no beginnings again. Love and forgiveness are not the same thing."
Enlightening and enjoyable--worth a read!
Marie D. (Waretown, NJ)

Vanessa and her Sister — a page turner of a tale!
At the outset, I feared I might be put off by the Priya Parmar's use of correspondence and conversation between Vanessa, Virginia, their siblings and assorted friends and suitors, to tell this story. As the characters took shape and substance, I soon recognized how quickly this technique invites the reader into the talented and exciting Bloomsbury Group as a witness to their lives!

It is a story of familial love and dependency, insanity, jealousy, sex and marriage in the early 20th Century and the evolving social and cultural upheavals of this era. The book also introduces many of the young, brilliant writers and artists of the period, such as E.M Forster, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, and T.S. Eliot! It is exciting to hear of the struggles of post-Impressionists, such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, began to shake up the art world.

Priya Parmar details the conflicted relationship between Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf beautifully, and with compassion. The portrait of Vanessa as a sister, wife, mother, and artist painted by the author reveals her love, kindness, patience and determination to succeed, both personally and professionally. "Vanessa" is a good read!
Rose N. (Saginaw, MI)

Vanessa and Her Sister
"Vanessa and Her Sister" is a novel which centers around the relationship of the artist Vanessa Stephen Bell and her sister Virginia Stephen Woolf. Written in the form of a diary, the story encompasses the years 1905 to 1912. During these years, the sisters and their two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, were hosts to weekly gatherings attended by many famous artists, writers, and intellectuals who came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. The members of this group came vibrantly alive with the expertly written words of Priya Parmar. The novel fluently covers their idiosyncrasies, their philosophies, their individual loves, affairs, tragedies. Reading this book was a most enjoyable learning experience which begs to be shared with other readers.
Mary Lou C. (Shenandoah Junction, WV)

Vanessa and her Sister - Outstanding
I had difficulty getting into this book initially, because of the unusual format and so many characters to keep track of. I didn't know very much about the Stephens sisters prior to reading this book. Once I got into the rhythm of the book, I couldn't put it down. It was entertaining and enlightening. I am anxious to read other books by this author. She is a masterful storyteller.
Jeanne B. (Albuquerque, NM)

A real stunner
Hmm, so apparently we didn't invent free love in the '60s!
Other reviewers have amply described this book's style and contents. I would just add two observations. One, you will never look at Virginia Woolf the same way again. Though many references are made to her mental illness, the book gives the overwhelming impression that Virginia torments her sister Vanessa out of a lifelong, deep-seated and very mean-spirited jealousy, up to and including destroying her marriage. For me this put a severe tarnish on Virginia's halo as a feminist author. Equally troubling is the omission of the sexual abuse both sisters suffered at the hands of their half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth. Since these men were included in this intimate tale, this information seems highly relevant. Having said that, this book was an absolute joy to read. Quirky, clever, heart-rending, original. The author, Priya Parmar, has a poetic flair that is highly suited to "channeling" the voices of the Bloomsbury Group. I highly recommend this book even if you don't know these people or think you care about them.

Beyond the Book:
  The Bloomsbury Group

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