Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar – Book Review

I found this book both enjoyable, for it was well written and researched, and at the same time annoying because of the actions and attitudes of Vanessa’s sister, Virginia. Of course, the Vanessa and Virginia that are portrayed here are none other than the Stephen sisters who later become Vanessa Bell, the painter and Virginia Woolf, the writer.  This book is extremely well-written and I enjoyed it immensely.

While the book itself is not objectionable, I had a really hard time with the absolute narcissistic, needy Virginia. This is not a book to read if you have put Virginia Woolf on any kind of pedestal, as the Virginia that we are shown through this book is a woman who has been coddled and treated with kid gloves all her life. There is one passage where Vanessa writes that her parents told her when she and Virginia were young, that because Virginia was so special, she did not need to follow the prescripts of “normal” behavior. You are left wondering if Virginia would have fared better if she had been held to “normal” behavior from a young age.

Vanessa & Virginia

Vanessa & Virginia

The book has as its focus the story of Vanessa, and I found this story to be riveting. At the risk of revealing too much, Virginia basically does her level best to ruin Vanessa’s life. That Vanessa doesn’t let her life be ruined by her own sister’s betrayal of trust is a testament to the strength of will that Vanessa possessed. Vanessa comes across as the “best” of the two sisters, and a hero in her own right. As the Author’s Notes state, Vanessa Bell went on to become a well-respected artist whose paintings now hang in Museums around the world. A very good book and one that I highly recommend!

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