Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Posted January 28, 2015 by Whitney in Review / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya ParmarVanessa and Her Sister
Author Priya Parmar
Publisher Random House
Publication Date December 30, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
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For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a captivating novel that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, and the controversial and popular circle of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.

But the landscape shifts when Vanessa unexpectedly falls in love and her sister feels dangerously abandoned. Eerily possessive, charismatic, manipulative, and brilliant, Virginia has always lived in the shelter of Vanessa’s constant attention and encouragement. Without it, she careens toward self-destruction and madness. As tragedy and betrayal threaten to destroy the family, Vanessa must decide if it is finally time to protect her own happiness above all else.

The work of exciting young newcomer Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister exquisitely captures the champagne-heady days of prewar London and the extraordinary lives of sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

Fond of:

  • In Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar incorporates telegrams, letters, tickets and all sorts of tidbits to enhance the story.  This creates a smorgasbord of  information for the imagination’s desire.
  • The novel is told through Vanessa’s journal which I thought was a brilliant idea as it made sure to feature the lesser known sister without too much of an influence on Virginia.
  • Not only did I enjoy the journal format but the date headers where wonderfully descriptive too, really setting the tone for the upcoming plot.

An example of such a header is:

Friday 24 February 1905 — 46 Gordon Square (early — perfect light)

Duncan’s hands are long and soft, with a small, neat callous on his thumb from holding a brush—the painter’s hallmark. I felt it when he shook my hand.

  • I have babbled on about the Priya Parmar’s writing long enough.  The story was engrossing with well-developed characters  sucking me in.  The Bloomsbury Group were clearly presented.  I could easily feel the liveliness of their creative friends .  The concern Vanessa and Virginia’s brothers (Julian Thoby) and Adrian) felt towards their sisters was also easy to see.   I felt the sisters were treated as equals which was nice to see.
  • After Vanessa’s marriage it turned into a soap opera of sorts, but more along the lines of a Downton Abbey rather than  As The World Turns.  There was betrayal, jealousies and romance with a bittersweet ending, all done classy.

Not Fond of:


  • At first ,it was a little difficult at first telling some characters apart due to a plethora of nicknames.  Fortunately, there was a “cast of characters” page which was very helpful.
  • This is more of neutral rather than a negative but I thought Virginia was portrayed a bit harshly  This was not to a point that was detesting and Virginia certainly did not always shine positively as a person but, it did feel a bit severe.

Final Thoughts:

Before I started Vanessa and Her Sister I knew very little about the Woolfs/Stephens/Bloombury Group.  Priya Parmar opened my eyes, expressing a need to learn more about the real cast of characters.  I feel this signifies the making of a great historical novel.  As a whole, Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar was splendid and a pleasure to read.

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