And what a story it is! It is turn of the century in London, 1905 to be exact. The four young adult Stephen siblings move from their deceased parents' home into the Bloomsbury neighborhood in London. Their friends and acquaintances are creative and intellectual and all too ready to loosen the restrictions of the Victorian era. At a time when the pressure for a young woman to marry is enormous, Vanessa and her sister, who would eventually become Virginia Woolf, are resistant to marriage proposals, enjoying the company of the group of young friends, mostly male, who are frequent visitors in their home.
The household and their cast of friends eventually became known as the Bloomsbury Group. They were definitely game changers in the literary and art worlds of pre-WW I Europe, but at this time they had yet to make their imprints on history. The friends include Clive Bell, an art critic, Rupert Brooke, a poet, E.M. Forster, a novelist, John Maynard Keynes, an economist and a myriad of other authors, artist and soon to be prominent government leaders.
Vanessa is an artist who has yet to sell a painting, her brother Thoby is a recent graduate of Cambridge, currently studying law. He is a charismatic young man whose friends are the ones who make themselves at home in the Stephen siblings' rambling shabby chic house. Virginia is a writer with a vivid imagination and an incredible need to be the center of attention. The youngest brother, Adrian is a Cambridge undergrad.
The dynamic that moves the story forward though is the relationship of the two sisters. Parmar does a masterful job of portraying the incredibly gifted but emotionally needy Virginia, whose dependence on her sister's attention causes her to go after anyone who shows too much attention to Vanessa, with the goal of destroying any relationship that might cause Vanessa to move on with a life separate from Virginia. Vanessa is emotionally strong, creative and intelligent and is mostly able to maneuver around Virginia's manipulative ploys.
This is quite a compelling introduction to some historical figures who come alive in this work, befriend and support one another, and in many ways, they will change the world. Priya Parmar is an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more of her work
I received an e-galley of the book from Random House via NetGalley. It is tentatively scheduled for publication in January, 2015.