Title: Vanessa and Her Sister: A Novel
Author: Priya Parmar
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
I love Virgina Woolf--that's initially the reason that I picked up this novel, and to hear of her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell? Well, I just had to get my hands on it. And when Edelweiss approved me, I was so happy. Part of the reason I love historical fiction so much is that it's rooted in fact, and Parmar did her research. But what was so fascinating to me about this novel wasn't even necessarily the premise of it, itself: it was the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia. Virginia is brilliant, but at times, mad, possessive, and cruel, and all Vanessa's ever wanted is something of her own, even though her sympathy and love for her sister has caused her, more often than not, to put off her own wants and needs.
The relationship between the two sisters is, at times, though tender and beautiful, twisted and frightening. Virginia is so obsessed with Vanessa that she literally wants everything that her sister has, and eventually, does, the most notable of which being Vanessa's husband, Clive. What is so beautiful and compelling about this novel is that though at times you want to look away, you cannot: Virginia seems to careen deeper into madness while Vanessa struggles to hold her, and herself, together. The way Parmar narrates the novel is like that of a psychological thriller, almost: Vanessa writes to the reader as if to a diary, and every ugly incident is exposed and raw.
I also really enjoyed the surrounding cast of characters to the love triangle: Lytton, who wants nothing more to be happy, and loved, Duncan, aloof and yet still magnetic to the others, Thoby, sweet and darling and down to earth, Ottoline, desperate for true love, Roger Fry, Vanessa's lover and great friend. I loved the way that the relationships intertwined with one another, rooted in fact and yet tenderly, lovingly rendered by the author.
There were times in the novel, though, where I wanted to scream: I hated Vanessa's husband with a burning passion for most of the book, and Virginia's selfishness and carelessness toward her sister made me livid.
The bottom line: A beautiful little book about the artists of the conversational Bloomsbury Group, highly recommended to fans of Robin Oliviera and Nancy Horan--a beautiful debut I will treasure forever! Next on deck: Sennar's Mission by Licia Troisi!