Before marrying, the two young women shared a house in Bloomsbury, London, with their brothers Thoby and Adrian Stephen, where the boys invited their clever Cambridge friends for soirees every Thursday. This was the early 1900s, so these late nights spent changing the world and no chaperones were considered shocking for the time. Among the characters Parmar treats us with are Lytton Strachey, Ottoline Morrell and Roger Fry.
But more interestingly, this is a view of the relationship between two sisters. As the eldest, Vanessa looks after the family accounts and worries about Virginia who is prone to mental breakdowns. When Vanessa is courted by Clive Bell, Virginia becomes so jealous she schemes to create a rift in the couple's relationship.
Stories written in diary format don’t always grab me, but this one just hummed along and I couldn’t put it down. Vanessa is such a sympathetic character and what a fascinating bunch the Bloomsbury Group were. Mingled with Vanessa’s diary entries are witty letters between Strachey and Leonard Woolf, telegrams and assorted correspondence.
Parmar has done a lot of research to imagine Vanessa Bell’s voice and her feelings for her charismatic but difficult sister. She allows her character to grow and change as events affect her to make a compelling and intriguing read.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue link: Vanessa and Her Sister