Some books you need time away from to reflect before you put your book thoughts down onto paper (or in some cases onto the keyboard) and some you should jot down as soon as you finish them when the book is most vivid. The latest read for the NTTVBG and Kirsty’s choice ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers is one of the latter books however life has gotten in the way once more and I have left jotting everything down a little too late and so I am hoping I catch the shine I first felt after reading the book in this post.
‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is the fictional tale of two rather famous sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and through Vanessa Bell’s eyes and narrative we get a look into the world of these two sisters from their childhood in the dim halls of a house in Hyde Park Gate until fame beckoned and war came making their lives unrecognisable in many different ways. Researched by Sellers, who is also a Woolf expert; this is a very vivid portrayal into the sibling’s lives and in some ways I suppose you could call it ‘historical faction’ if you wished, whatever the genre it does come filled with atmosphere whilst being highly readable.
This book for me personally, regardless of who the two leading women were, told the sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing relationship of two sisters, brought close together (almost cloyingly so) by the deaths of those around them, and afterwards an almost constant struggle evermore to out do one another and compete against the other (and not just creatively) whilst at the same time each constantly seeking the others approval and validation. I thought Sellers managed to write and capture these feelings marvellously. We all love our siblings and yet in minute ways, not to the extremes in this book I hope, do have some small competition with them (everyone will be saying ‘no we don’t’ – you are all big fibbers) and I found that very interesting to read even more so when it reached the extremes in this book.
I don’t know very much about Woolf or Bell and for me that worked to the books advantage. I was totally lost in the lives of the sisters and didn’t know (well apart from Woolf’s rather infamous death) which way the story would go and that kept me reading on along with Sellers wonderful prose. I did wonder if Sellers wrote from the aspect of Bell both because Bell is the lesser known and also as a painter though her Sellers could paint the scenes more intensely and vividly through her eyes, or maybe that’s just me looking for things that aren’t there? I do think the story of Vanessa is a fascinating one from her marriage it’s openness and its decline and the relationships she had afterwards, how the war affected her and how her sister’s fame affected her.
I think writing a fictional book with someone as famous as Woolf as a character can be a blessing and a curse for a book as some people will dash to buy it and either love it or be slightly disappointed or people will be put off. If that might be you then don’t be put off as I don’t think you have to know anything about the sisters to read this book. In fact I could imagine if you knew too much before this book you might not get quite so much from it because you would already, possibly subconsciously, have certain feelings and prior knowledge of the leading ladies and that could stop this fiction weaving its fictional magic.
It’s interesting that from the discussion (which you can see here) those who knew a lot about Woolf and her life didn’t quite enjoy it as much as those people who didn’t. Well that’s the case on the whole, I am sure there will be Woolf lovers who love it also. It’s a book that I very much enjoyed. I don’t think its changed my thoughts on Woolf in any way or made me want to rush off and read more of her works or more about her (but that might just be my Woolf readings of late rather than this book) it has made me want to find out much, much more about Vanessa Bell though.
Oddly, from the man who the other day mentioned he assumed a book was fact from the start, I would try going into this book leaving all your prior knowledge or assumptions of Woolf and Bell at the door if you can you might just enjoy it all the more. Anyone else agree? Who else has read this and what did you think?
Oh and two things not to forget. One is that there is a rather special ‘Solar’ Competition going on below and the second is that the next NTTVBG meeting will be next Sunday over at Kimbofo’s to talk about ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston, see you there I hope!