Amazing, stellar, incredible, etc. etc. Has been the centre of my attention since I started reading it, to the chagrin of everyone who's had to hear m...moreAmazing, stellar, incredible, etc. etc. Has been the centre of my attention since I started reading it, to the chagrin of everyone who's had to hear me talk about the combined awesomeness of both Woolf and Lee non-stop for weeks.
Hermione Lee wrote a meticulously researched, ruthlessly balanced, clear-eyed, compassionate, respectful biography. I got the sense that she seemed to be actively wrestling with the material in order to present VW in the most complete way possible instead of choosing to sensationalize, actively pointing out the ways in which VW was more than the sum of her illnesses, labels, and abuses, which is an approach that I appreciate very much.
If you have only a casual interest in Virginia Woolf, or you only need to focus on a particular aspect of her life and/or work for academic purposes, this book might not suit you. If, however, you're interested in learning a lot more about the totality of VW's life and the people and issues surrounding it, and/or you're a fiend for the minutiae and gossip of lives in general, this book is 700 pages of literary crack.(less)
Brilliantly funny in places, but -- censored! Lines cut out all over the place. Which is understandable considering the date of publication, but all t...moreBrilliantly funny in places, but -- censored! Lines cut out all over the place. Which is understandable considering the date of publication, but all the same, that sort of thing drives me batty. I'm looking forward to the unexpurgated versions that -- I hope! -- are in VW's complete Letters.(less)
Given the potential in the subject matter, this was really not very well-written at all. Fabulous pictures, some truly interesting anecdotes I hadn't...moreGiven the potential in the subject matter, this was really not very well-written at all. Fabulous pictures, some truly interesting anecdotes I hadn't yet heard about via other sources, but lousy writing. So disappointing.
It reads like a competent but otherwise uninspiring English essay -- you know how, in high school or thereabouts, the style with essays is to make a point at the beginning of the paper and then re-hash it again in different words for the conclusion? And continue doing so on a smaller scale for each paragraph? It's like that. Dunn makes the same points over and over again, sometimes only pages apart, without taking the opportunity to go much deeper. Which is a shame, really, because I think there really are some valuable insights in the material -- reading this book as a sibling and an older sister myself gave me a few things to think about -- but they got obfuscated by her tendency to simplify the material to its very basics and say that Vanessa was the lush sexual hyper-maternal magisterial one and Virginia totally wasn't. Repeatedly.
(She also seems to distrust the reader's ability to remember the basics of the girls' lives: if I had to read, for example, the phrase "her half-brother George" one more time I was going to start taking hostages. WE KNOW HE'S THEIR HALF-BROTHER YOU CAN JUST CALL HIM GEORGE JESUS LADY.)
This did interest me enough that I decided to commit to someday reading Frances Spalding's full biography of Vanessa, though. Both of my contrasting urges to give her a hug and punch her in the face during the Duncan Duncan Duncan Roger Duncan! chapters got so strong that I just -- feel compelled to try to figure out what the eff she was thinking. So aggravating and so sad.
Of the five blurbs on the back cover, three are from people who knew VW and VB personally (Angelica, Nigel Nicolson, and Quentin), and they're all unusually laudatory -- Angelica's claims that the book "allows her to believe that the author knew both her mother and her aunt" and Quentin's says "It is almost too true and too moving to be read by a close relation." Which means something, I guess, because clearly I'm a sucker for these people -- I feel like my impulse to say "Imagine how they would have felt if someone better had handled the material" is kind of tacky under the circumstances -- although it doesn't really raise the book in my estimation at all. (Which is interesting, because you know that if, say, Frieda Hughes had written that shit it totally would.)(less)