Vanessa And Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa And Her Sister

byPriya Parmar

Hardcover | January 20, 2015

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It can break your heart to have a sister like Virginia Woolf.
     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 eventually, 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.

About The Author

Educated at Mount Holyoke College, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Oxford, PRIYA PARMAR is the author of one previous novel, Exit the Actress. She divides her time between Hawaii and London. www.priyaparmar.com
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Details & Specs

Title:Vanessa And Her SisterFormat:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.5 × 6.4 × 1.3 inPublished:January 20, 2015Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:038568133X

ISBN - 13:9780385681339

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Bookclub Guide

1.     When the novel opens, their father has died and the Stephen siblings have moved from their childhood home in Kensington to bohemian Bloomsbury.  Why do you think Vanessa chose to uproot her siblings and move to such a radically different part of town?  What sort of change is she trying to bring about for her family?   2.     Vanessa tells us that her family value words and books over painting and visual arts. How do you think growing up in such a family affected Vanessa's view of herself as an artist? Would you rather be a writer or a painter?   3.     Vanessa has always protected and supported Virginia, and has excused much of her difficult and unsocial behavior.  Do you think Vanessa's tolerance gives Virginia permission to behave in the way that she does?   4.     What is your opinion of Virginia and Vanessa’s relationship? Before Vanessa’s betrayal, did you find them to be legitimate friends, or do you feel something was missing between them even before Vanessa married Clive? How does Vanessa’s view of her sister change after she marries?   5.     Vanessa turns down several proposals from Clive, but decides to accept him after Thoby dies. Do you feel that if Thoby had lived, Vanessa might have chosen a different path? Or that Virginia might not have behaved as she did? Do you think Vanessa and Clive are well-suited to each other?   6.     Virginia feels contempt for Clive and thinks him an unsuitable husband for her sister. Why does she seek to “find a place” in Vanessa's marriage? What do you think Virginia hopes to achieve?   7.     We often think of the early twentieth century as being a time of almost Victorian restraint, yet the Bloomsbury Group were open about both homosexual and heterosexual love. Do you think they were utterly unique? Do you believe such openness was actually more common at the time than we traditionally believe?   8.     The Bloomsbury Group not only challenged the norms of the time, but challenged each other during their numerous discussions about art, writing, philosophy, economics and even love. Vanessa at times feels she is out of her depth, and marvels at Virginia’s brilliance. Do you agree with her assessment of herself? How difficult do you feel it would have been to be a part of such a talented and intelligent circle?   9.     At one point Vanessa reflects, “If Virginia were not my sister, we would be a pedestrian cliché. Instead, we are a bohemian nightmare.” How do you feel the ideals of the Bloomsbury Group influenced Vanessa’s reaction to not only Clive’s affair with Virginia, but his choice to resume physical relations with Mrs. Raven Hill? If you had been in her shoes, do you feel you would have responded differently?   10.  The story opens with a letter from Virginia to Vanessa stating, “What happened cannot break us. It is impossible. Someday you will love and forgive me. Someday we will begin again.” How did this letter color your reading of the rest of the novel? Did you expect Vanessa to forgive Virginia at any point? Do you think it is fair to say that Vanessa still loves her sister, despite that fact that she ultimately decides she cannot forgive her? Do you agree with Vanessa’s decision?   11.  Vanessa and Her Sister is told largely through excerpts from Vanessa’s diary and her letters, with snippets of correspondence between her family and friends. What did you think of this narrative style? Was there any one person whose perspective you wished to see more often? How objective did you feel Vanessa’s portrayal of the story was?   12.  Of the two sisters, Virginia is undoubtedly the more famous. Were you surprised by anything you learned about her in this novel? Did it challenge any previous ideas you had about her?   13.  At the end of the novel, the author gives a brief description of what became of the members of the Bloomsbury Group. Was there anything in there you found unexpected? Disappointing? Particularly satisfying?

Editorial Reviews

A New York Times Notable 100 Book of the YearNamed one of The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review Editors’ Choice Named one of Vanity Fair’s Books You Need to Read this Month (January)"[Vanessa and Her Sister] deals skillfully with . . . the fluctuating loves and betrayals, the art, Virginia’s terrifying bouts of insanity, and her almost equally terrifying bouts of whimsical brilliance and charm. . . . [Parmar] creates a convincing voice." —Financial Times"Parmar's Vanessa and Her Sister injects new sizzle into the saga [of the Bloomsbury Group]. With a multi-voice, almost operatic treatment, Parmar’s second novel illuminates emotional truths about the already famous lives of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf." —Toronto Star "A personal drama of great force. . . . Parmar's lively version of this well-known story quickly won me over.” —National Post "Deftly told. . . . [Vanessa and Her Sister] captures the youthful, bohemian mood of the time." —The Globe and Mail "This novel gives [the Bloomsbury Group] as sharp an outline as one of Vanessa's paintings." —Winnipeg Free Press“It’s not often that you wish a book wouldn’t end, but [Vanessa and Her Sister] is so deliciously gossipy (while occasionally wonderfully prurient), and almost too beautifully written, to stop at 339 pages. The neediness, the control, the mind games, and ultimately the betrayal at the heart of this often poisonous sibling rivalry, is never less than fascinating.”  ―The Independent (UK) “Vanessa and Her Sister is an elegant, entertaining novel that brings new life to the Bloomsbury Group’s intrigues.”  ―Dallas Morning News “[Vanessa and Her Sister] draws a richly compelling and extraordinarily sympathetic portrait of a woman struggling to extricate herself from her sister’s loving but desperate clutches, and live, for want of a better phrase, a life of her own. . . . [Parmar] offers a fresh perspective on a story that’s already become legend.” ―The Independent (UK) “[An] impressive novel. . . . with sharp insight and careful attention to detail. . . . Vanessa and Her Sister is a remarkable achievement. . . . [that is] so fresh and compelling.” ―The Guardian (UK)   “Told in richly imagined diary entries from Bell’s perspective, as well as invented letters and telegrams. . . . Parmar’s extensive research into the Bloomsbury group’s correspondence and diaries lends a realistic gloss to her fictionalized account of Bell’s turbulent life during these years.” ―Huffington Post   “Parmar convincingly portrays the sisters’ relationship, which is intensely close yet marred by the destructive effects of Virginia’s mental illness.” ―The New York Times   “‘A moving portrait of a brilliant family,’ says Staci Rice of Bluebird Books in Hutchinson, Kan.” ―USA Today   “[W]ritten with imaginative panache. . . . ***½ stars out of four. Gossipy, entertaining . . . makes for some tasty, frothy Bloomsbury pie.” ―USA Today   “Fascinating.” ―Jacquelin Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean “Parmar’s narrative is riveting and successfully takes on the task of turning larger-than-life figures into real people. . . . [She] weaves their stories together so effortlessly that nothing seems out of place.”  —Publishers Weekly, starred review “Priya Parmar is on a high-wire act all her own in this radiantly original novel about the Bloomsbury Set. Irrepressible, with charm and brio to spare, Vanessa and Her Sister boldly invites us to that moment in history when famous minds sparked and collided, shaping the terrain of art and letters. But it’s the two sisters who are most bewitching here—rocking on the brink of unforgivable transgression, changing each other in ways far-reaching and profound. Prepare to be dazzled.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife         “With sparkling wit and insight, Priya Parmar sets us down into the legendary Bloomsbury household of the Stephen siblings, where sisters Vanessa and Virginia vie for love and primacy amid a collection of eccentric guests. Vanessa and Her Sister kidnapped me for a couple of days. I couldn’t put it down.” —Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank   “This is the novel I didn’t know I was waiting for, and it is, quite simply, astonishing. Not just because of Priya Parmar’s preternatural skill at evoking the moment when the lid was coming off the Victorians and the heated talk about art, life, and sex swirled through Bloomsbury, but because of how she has caught the two sisters at the center of that swirl—the women who would become Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Vanessa and Her Sister is beautiful and wise, and as deft as a stroke upon the canvas.” —Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress