If you think you’ve got family issues, try growing up with Virginia Woolf as your sister. She’s jealous, moody, competitive and way too prone to flirting with your husband.
Priya Parmar’s meticulously researched and subtly plotted new novel, Vanessa and Her Sister, delves deep into the lives of Vanessa and Virginia (née) Stephen, exploring one of literary history’s most dysfunctional sibling relationships.
When the book opens, in 1905, both sisters are nearing not-yet-married spinster territory. Along with their brothers, Adrian and Thoby, they’ve amassed a collection of intellectual compadres--a circle that came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group and included the art critic Clive Bell and writer E. M. Forster. Over the years, alliances are made, careers forged and romances kindled and destroyed--all of which makes for the kind of juicy historical fiction we can’t get enough of.
The book is told entirely through letters, telegrams and Vanessa’s journal entries--and apparently Parmar stuck so thoroughly to the facts that Bloomsbury scholars asked the author which documents she invented. (The truth: All of them.) But even if you’re not a Woolf aficionado, we bet you’ll be entranced.
Read it with your book club. Then reread Mrs. Dalloway with a fresh set of eyes.