Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar

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Five stars, read in January 2015.

The fictionalized life of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf is such an excellent premise for a historical novel. I went through some ups and downs with the Stephen sisters, and I loved the chance to experience their lives.

For the first 150 pages I just loved everything and soaked it all in, the characters and the ideas and the lovely beautiful moments. I’ve always found the Bloomsbury group fascinating, and I enjoyed the scenes featuring their debates and conversations. Then, to be honest, I got a little sick of how lovely and beautiful everything was. Too much bliss is just tiresome. I began to question Parmar and her writing, with all the characters narrating themselves so neatly, all their correspondence so conveniently expositional. And everything—at least four sentences out of five—is metaphor and simile on top of metaphor and simile, and come on already, can we please just have a few straightforward unembellished sentences for a while?

But then the bliss ends, as bliss does, with a betrayal and several frustrating developments; I went through a period of disgust and sadness and anger and wishing with gritted teeth. They won me back, Vanessa and Priya Parmar, and the second I finished the book I started scouring my bookshelves to find something that would let me stay in that world. I only have Morgan Forster and A Room of One’s Own, as it turns out, so instead I watched The Hours and tried to sketch Virginia Woolf in a Deckchair in my art journal.

I guess the Stephen sisters resonate with me. I end up loving them even more, and I have great hopes for my future relationship with Priya Parmar now, too.

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