17 Bookworm Lane
23 February 2015
My dearest Squinks,
And so, the cold weather lingers on. I do hope that it has yet overstayed its welcome where you are. Winters do seem dreadfully long if they are especially cold, n’est-ce pas? When the temperature dips below 20° C, I sometimes recall those moments of my childhood during which we trudged 20 miles to school … walking barefoot … in the snow … with nary un chapeau to keep our têtes protected from the wind.
Et alors, I write to you today to tell you about the most delightful novel I have just finished. It is written by one Priya Parmar, a very talented author who hails from Mother England. Vanessa and Her Sister is a unique and lovely literary tableau of the heydays of the Bloomsbury Group, told through the wise eyes of Vanessa Bell (née Stephen). Wonderful things about this novel abound; I hope one of the copies in our library will someday find its way into your hands.
Are you wondering if this story really is worth your time? Maybe you’re not particularly keen on immersing yourself in the lives of these Bloomsbury authors, artists, and critics, whom some have undoubtedly labelled as equally the epitome of intelligence and the pinnacle of pretentiousness? Peut-être reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse has given you a perpetual, irrevocable, indomitable refusal to ever read anything related to her ever again? If so, dearest Squinks, I beg you to let me plead my case.
Read this novel for Parmar’s writing. Read it for the pure joy of hearing her witty words spoken aloud because saying them in your head once is simply not enough. It is facile enough to read the curricula vitæ of these beaux amis, but Parmar’s writing brings them, especially the Stephen sisters, to life. Told from Vanessa’s perspective, with the occasional welcome interruptions from friends, Vanessa and Her Sister affords its readers an extended glimpse into the lives of this coterie from the rare point of view of someone living within it. Parmar’s Vanessa is an intelligent and perceptive heroine, keenly aware of her place as a woman, wife, and artist in the England of the early 1900s. I think many of you will truly appreciate recognizing that she was both a product of and participant in her time, and that she handled herself with aplomb even in the most trying of circumstances. Some would undoubtedly admonish her for her seeming passive-aggressiveness, but dear Squinks, as you read this novel, I hope you, too, come to comprehend and applaud the quiet but steady trail that Vanessa blazed. And what of Virginia Woolf? I’ve never loathed her nor understood her as much as I do now that I’ve seen her through the eyes of her sister. Vanessa’s forbearance of Virginia haunts me in the same way that Virginia’s beauty haunted her.
If, by the time you reach her journal entry dated 20 November 1906, you still have not found the lure that draws you into the turbulent English Channel that was the Stephens, I encourage you, then, to simply admire Parmar’s talent with me. Her words are eloquent, and her turns of phrases capture the voices of this time period. Rather than seeming tentative or contrived, Vanessa’s wit and humour flow freely across the page as a testimony to the author’s deft. Parmar makes me want to write and paint and read to feel the same passion that permeated throughout the Bloomsbury Group.
Please, my dear Squinks, please put me out of my misery. Venez me voir dans la bibliothèque et demandez-moi ce nouveau roman incroyable.
PS: My favourite line of the entire novel is the last line. Let me know when you get there!
Thank you, Random House and Ballantine Books, for sending me a copy of Vanessa and Her Sister. All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own; I received no compensation for them.