Book Review: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister re-imagines the loves, passions, lives and minds of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Stephen (Fry). The sisters are surrounded by people with means and similar intellectual pursuits. They spend hours discussing recent writings, art breakthroughs and the ever-undulating love affairs of those in their circle.

Priya Parmar weaves her imagined story into the known history of the literary and art heroes creating a passionate, page turning story. We know that Virginia will marry Woolf, we know that the books of E. M. Forester become literary legends, but Parmar unspools the events and sprinkles them with gorgeous surprises.

“Does anyone know when he’s becoming ridiculous? Is there such a thing as ridiculous or is it just a social construction?”

Parmar has a poetic voice which suits the era and characters. There are a large amount of characters presented early in the novel but Parmar provides a cast of characters section early in the book to aid readers. There is also an author’s note at the end of the book which gives readers a sneak peek into what happens to the characters after we leave them.

“I marveled at the way Mr. Fry listened. It was an active, thoughtful listening rather than the passive pause while one waits his turn to speak that you see so often in great men.”

The book flows between letters, telegrams and entries from Vanessa’s diary. We meet Vanessa when she is a free and unmarried spirit whose only difficulties are the complications which arise from her sister’s unpredictable behavior and finding the energy to maintain her late parlor nights spent pontificating on theory and the arts. We stay with Vanessa as she falls in love, starts a family, loses a sibling and bounces through her young adult years. Already a fan of Virgina Woolf, this reading encouraged me to read more about her and her sister who was a well known painter.

This is a great read for fans of The Paris Wife or for any reader seeking a work of partially biographical, historical fiction with a hint of romance.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pub date: December 30, 2014
ISBN: 9780804176378
Page Count: 368
Publisher: Random House

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