The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

Vanessa and Her Sister

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I love a novel that teaches me something. Vanessa and Her Sister (A) by Priya Parmar taught me a lot.

Written as Vanessa Stephen Bell’s journal, we discover her sister is the famous author Virginia Woolf. Vanessa and Virginia moved to Bloomsbury near London after the death of their parents and sister. They lived near many of their artsy friends. These friends included people like John Maynard Keynes (a notable economist), E. M. Forster (A Room With A View), Lytton Strachey (a biographer) and Clive Bell (English art critic). They would meet regularly at the Stephen home to discuss art , literature and  social issues. They became known as The Bloomsbury Set or Group.

Through Vanessa’s journal entries we learn of the struggle her sister Virginia had with mental illness. Virginia was always jealous of Vanessa. She wanted her constant attention, even having an affair with Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell. After his “affair” with Virginia and others, he and Vanessa carried on in an “open” marriage. Her art and her children kept her focus.

I very much enjoyed the way Parmar wrote this novel. The journal format made it extremely interesting and informative. While at times, I became a bit confused with the characters (mostly because they all had nicknames) soon enough they became familiar to me. I found myself eager to research each one in order to learn more about them. I particularly liked that Parmar wrote an Author’s note following up an each member of the set and what became of them.

I strongly recommend Vanessa and Her Sister especially for readers like myself who enjoy historical fiction. For me, it was more than a great novel; it was a huge learning curve. Now I know who and what The Bloomsbury Set were all about.

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