Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Vanessa and Her Sister

Vanessa And Her Sister
By Priya Parmar
Ballantine Books December 2014
368 pages
Read via Netgalley

Vanessa and Her Sister

Everyone knows Virginia Woolf, the incredibly talented author of To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. But she is not the only gifted one among her family and friends. The Stephen children - Virginia, Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian -  are at the center of a group of writers, artists, and thinkers who will shape the 20th century and become known as The Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa is a painter who is also an expert at caring for her sister and her fragile mental state. When Vanessa falls in love, Virginia is not pleased at losing first place in her sister's life. Their relationship starts to unravel and the repercussions will be felt throughout their art, their family, and their group of friends.

I loved the focus on family in this novel, both the people related by birth and the friends that become family. Vanessa and Virginia are a bit scandalous in their time because the friends and colleagues of their brothers become their friends as well. It is easy to see the concern that they share for each other's personal lives and the evolution of their talents. I also loved Parmar's depiction of great artists and writers in their early years, when they were not confident in their abilities. It's fun to know what they will become, even when the characters themselves don't.

Vanessa is the older sister but the one who is less known for her art. Vanessa grapples, as so many women do, with caring for others and pursuing her own passions. Is Vanessa a little-known artist today because she spent so much of her life caring for her husband, children, and her unpredictable sister Virginia? It's very possible. Parmar gives Vanessa a greater voice than she perhaps had in life by creating a fictitious journal for her. The journal is interspersed with letters, postcards, and telegrams both from Vanessa and the family and friends who enrich and complicate her life.

It is a rare historical fiction novel that finds balance between establishing the time and place and telling the story of specific people. Pirya Parmar does this effortlessly as we watch Vanessa both follow and defy the expectations of the era in which she lived. At its heart, this is a story about love - about forgiving when our loved ones hurt us, about loving to create, and about the choice to love and care for ourselves. 


  1. Vanessa and Her Sister was such an enjoyable novel, nice review!

  2. I agree - it's rare and wonderful to find a book that bring to life both a time period and specific characters! This is on my to-read list and I'm extra excited to get to it after reading your review.