Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Vanessa and Her Sister” as Want to Read:
Vanessa and Her Sister
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Vanessa and Her Sister

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  5,556 ratings  ·  1,076 reviews
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 a
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 20th 2015 by Bond Street Books (first published December 30th 2014)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Vanessa and Her Sister, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Priya Parmar Vanessa Bell was always using words a bit incorrectly. She was known for her mismatched metaphors and asymmetrical phrasing and Bloomsbury friends pic…moreVanessa Bell was always using words a bit incorrectly. She was known for her mismatched metaphors and asymmetrical phrasing and Bloomsbury friends picked up the habit and would mimic the style. I wanted to include that grammatical quirk in an unobtrusive way.(less)
Priya Parmar Woolf had a romantic affair with the author Vita Sackville-West during her marriage to Leonard. But the love between Virginia and Leonard was profound…moreWoolf had a romantic affair with the author Vita Sackville-West during her marriage to Leonard. But the love between Virginia and Leonard was profound. She wrote two suicide notes: one to Vanessa and one to Leonard. Her letter to her husband is heartbreaking.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,556 ratings  ·  1,076 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Vanessa and Her Sister
Diane S ☔
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starting in 1904, this novel spans six years in the life of the Stephen family and the very talented members who make up the Bloomsbury group. I loved this book and loved that the novel is told from the journal or diary writings of Vanessa Bell. Additional letters from other members of the group along with telegrams and other travel paraphernalia, gave such a personal look at these amazing people and the beginnings of their success. Would love to been at their intellectual evenings discussing pa ...more
I live very near to Vanessa Bell’s house. Whenever someone comes to visit I take them to see Charleston, Vanessa Bell’s house and have come to know it almost as well as my own house. Therefore this novel held a special interest for me.

There are two ways of looking at this book – either as a novel which is what it calls itself or as fictionalised biography. I’m not sure it really works as a novel, by which I mean I don’t think it would hold your interest if you weren’t already interested in Virg
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
May 29, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of the Bloomsbury Group
Shelves: read-2014
In this book we get to know the people in Bloomsbury Group through Vanessa Stephen's (later Vanessa Bell) journal. This book also contains postcards and letter sent from various members of the group.

I can't say I was overly pleased with the journal approach of this book, and I was a bit confused about why there were dialogs in the journal. I mean I haven't written a journal in years, but who writes dialog in it? It would have been just better to have this book written from Vanessa's point of vie
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
I loved the idea of this book--a fictional  history of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa during their 20's while still single,   told through letters and post cards.  I adore  reading old letters in epistolary novels...usually.  Here, though, there were just too many people writing letters to too many people.  It did not work for me at all.  I managed to grasp a few incidents of Virginia's  mania, and thought the Vanessa character was well drawn, but not very interesting. Overall, boring.
Elyse  Walters
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Wow! Hard to believe this is a first novel by Priya Parmar! Its an epic historical fiction novel about the vibrant-exotic lives of the 'Stephens Family' and their artistic friends 'The Bloomsbury Group'.

This novel beings in London --Pre-War --1905. The Four 'Stephen siblings' are Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian.
Each of these adult siblings are talented -bright- and colorful ---(Vanessa does painting, Virgina is a writer, Adrian has theatrical experience, Thoby has athletic abilities and is
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully evocative historical novel, built around the relationship between Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf. When we first meet them in 1905, they are the Stephen sisters, living with their brothers Thoby and Adrian in a Georgian square in Bloomsbury. Of course, this is the beginning of the Bloomsbury set, when the Stephens house becomes central to a whole host of visiting writers and artists, including Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Saxon Turner and Walter Lamb. Relatives l ...more
Rating this is simple. I know I really liked it, so four stars! Figuring out why I liked it so much is the hard part.….but not really. It is because the book displays in-depth character analysis. This appeals to me. There is a lot to think about in terms of how people (lovers and spouses and friends and siblings) relate to each other.

The central theme of this book is the relationship between painter Vanessa Bell and her sister, the famed author Virginia Woolf, two central figures of the Bloomsb
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm wary of novels written about real people whose lives are in living memory; because I think it's too easy for the line between fact and fiction to be blurred. But I found so many reasons to pick up this book. It has such a lovely cover, it's set in a milieu that I love, it's a story of sisters, and it's a story that places the lesser known of two celebrated sisters at the centre of the stage.

The two sisters are artist Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, and this is Vanessa's story. It's w
(3.5) Parmar’s second novel brings the Bloomsbury group to vibrant life. This is Vanessa Bell’s imagined diary, incorporating letters and telegrams. In 1905, the four Stephen children have recently been orphaned. Vanessa, the eldest, strives to keep the family together in their London home while focusing on her painting. Mercurial Virginia, periodically affected by mental illness, struggles with her writing.

Spanning the years until 1911, the novel covers the siblings’ trips abroad and their inte
Rating: Very Good


This book is named Vanessa and Her Sister but it is more than that, it is about the whole Stephen family and their friends. And to be more specific it is about the Bloomsbury group of authors, critics, and artists. Such a fantastic debut novel by Priya Parmar. I'd say a very strong start for an author to write a historical fiction about nonfictional characters and in such structure. The book feels like the diary of Vanessa Stephen (the elder sister of Virginia Wo
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful and vibrant imagining of the lives of artist Vanessa Bell and and her sister, the difficult genius, Virginia Woolf, this book is. Joining the story early in there lives before either is married: Virginia is struggling to write, and Vanessa has yet to sell a painting. Already though they are part of a intellectual circle of writers and artist named the Bloomsbury group. These include such names as Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, John ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.0 out of 5 stars -- "Hope is an unbreakable habit."

At the moment of finishing, I was overwhelmed by this book and needed to let all of the nuances and ramifications settle before I wrote a review. If I look at this as fiction, it is simply an amazingly good story -- but since I'm no literary historian, I can't speak to the veracity of this account of the lives of Virgina Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Wow.

This is not a fast paced narrative, but one that builds slowly with a crescendo simmering
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss
Review also found at

received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is December 30th 2014.

I hesitate to pen my thoughts on this story. I always wonder if I am being harsh or if I missed something when I am not particularly fond of a book that seems to be getting glowing reviews. I just simply did not feel the love for this story.

The reason for my lack of enthusiasm is
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have to say that I just absolutely could not get into this book. It is written from the viewpoint of Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa. Vanessa is writing in her journal. There are also a smattering of telegrams and notes from friends. But I never felt that I got to know the characters. Most of them I really had no desire to get to know, but there were a couple I would have liked more on.

Vanessa is portrayed as the saintly sister that tolerates Virginia's behavior. I found Virginia to be a total
Jan 23, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed listening to this story. Each character was read by a different person, giving them personality and voice. The format of a story being told through diary entries, letters, postcards and telegrams was, I think, meant to bring that "inside" thought of a person to the surface, to give depth and insight, perhaps, and to bring out the real person.
The story of this group, told mainly through Vanessa's eyes is fascinating. So much was happening in those days
I went through some ups and downs with Vanessa and Virginia. For the first 150 pages I just loved everything and soaked it all in, the characters and the ideas and the lovely beautiful moments. I've always found the Bloomsbury group fascinating, and I enjoyed the scenes featuring their debates and conversations. Then, to be honest, I got a little sick of how lovely and beautiful everything was. Too much bliss is just tiresome. I began to question Parmar and her writing, with all the characters n ...more
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I got this book for free from Netgalley. When I first started, I was a bit sceptical. The depiction of the characters seemed a bit thin. But a few chapters in, I realized that I was having trouble putting it down and the book seemed to grow in depth. I got really engrossed in the story and the author's depiction of the Bloomsbury Group through a fictitious Vanessa Bell's eyes. The writing is beautiful and Parmar gives Bell a strong, humorous, smart and very human voice. She also does a great jo ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Virginia Woolf's fans

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

This is the story of the two sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Their life’s story is told by Vanessa through her diary and by making use of the existing correspondence among them and their friends as well.

Basically, the author describes the story of the Bloomsbury Group which comprises some very well-known writers such as Virginia Wolff, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Foster and Lytton St
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books

I know it’s not fair to dislike a person because of mental illness, but as I read through this wonderful, beautifully written novel the Virginia Woolf as Parmar portrayed her often made me furious. Much of her young Virginia Stevens, nee Woolf’s, ‘illness’ seems behavioral, and to stem from a coddled narcissism, as much as some possible chemical imbalance. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t the Real Virginia, but a fictional construct. The idea of sensitive artist as crazy person (o
Canadian Reader
This novel, in the form of journal entries, train tickets, telegrams, and post cards is written largely from the point of view of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf's less famous artist sister. It focuses on the activities of the Bloomsbury group, their seemingly endless and shifting sexual affairs with each other, their petty (and sometimes not so petty) bickering, and their betrayals of each other. Given its subject matter, the novel is for a rather select readership: those who are interested in the ...more
Erika Robuck
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: I first bought VANESSA AND HER SISTER for my ereader, but after forty pages, I was confused by the characters and their nicknames, and could not sink into the very specific rhythm of the story that I sensed was there. Books have a funny way of whispering in my ear, however, so after a few weeks, I purchased the hardcover. Within ten pages I was spellbound by the gorgeous prose, the unique structure, and the very real women and men peopling the story.

Assembled as a series of let
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was privileged to have received this advance copy book via NetGalley for my fair and honest review.

I knew nothing of the "Bloomsbury Group" other than having heard the term at some point; it remained in the dark recesses of my mind. I heard the name "Virginia Woolf" before, but only in the title of an Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie from the sixties. I love reading about Victorian London and artists, literary and otherwise, so for those reasons alone I was drawn to this book.

I wasn't exp
Elizabeth Olson
Oh, I tried to like this book. I tried *hard*. But Vanessa is deeply dull, and her more famous sister, Virgina (Woolf) is not at all appealing. I forced myself to keep reading, though, slogging through at an ever slower and more reluctant pace until it finally dawned on me: this is all really, really boring.
Sue Gerhardt Griffiths
I found it really hard to get into this book as most of the book is filled with letters, postcards and telegrams, although I thought it was absolutely beautifully set out I abandoned the book at about the 30% mark and switched to audio and wow, what a contrast, each character was read by a different person, giving them personality and charm. The audiobook had me completely spellbound.
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, c21st, 15review
I really, really enjoyed this book, and was sorry to come to its end. It is a fictionalisation of the life of Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and her sister Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) between 1905 and 1912, and I wanted to know what happened next.

Well, I know, of course, what happened next. The war; Vanessa becoming a noted avant-garde artist; the founding of the Hogarth Press; and Virginia becoming a famous writer and her suicide. But I wanted to read about all that from Vanessa’s point-of-view and sa
Jennifer S. Brown
I don't know much about the Bloomsbury set, but this book absolutely drew me in to their lives, and it was fascinating to watch Virginia Woolf's life through the eyes of her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell. The book is written diary style, and at times all the names and nicknames left me a little dizzy, turning back to see who was who, but finally it all clicked and I was sucked into the story. What a lifestyle they all lived, so daring for their time. The real-life historical figures came to li ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up-on
Well, I'm sad to report this book just isn't for me. I don't like the writing style at all. I don't like that there is a list of characters and then I'm supposed to figure out whose who without really having the characters introduced or explained to me in the course of the story. It makes for a very confused, disjointed read.

Obviously there are those who loved the book. It was actually given to me by a friend who raves about the story. So, clearly this is a matter of taste.

For me personally I'
DNF at 25%, not my cup of tea I think. The writing seems ok and the subject matter isn't bad, honestly I think learning about Virginia Woolfe's painter sister is rather interesting, but the story itself isn't getting my attention at all. I'm not moved by these characters enough to care.
Sep 16, 2014 marked it as maybe-later  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-received
DNF at 21%

I vaguely know of the characters this book is based on, but after reading the blurb, I was very interested in reading Vanessa and Her Sister. However, once I started reading, I had a hard time paying attention. The pacing felt too slow and disjointed and I believe that’s because it’s told in journal entries and letters. While I love stories told like this, I do realize that it doesn’t work well for everything. I tried my best to continue on reading until the story picked up, but it did
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2017, in-en
To be paired with the BBC mini-series 'Life in Squares', like a great cheese/wine combo. It must be in my top 3 'Books I wished I could live in'.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 4 Dec 02, 2015 11:03AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Super-librarian needs to delete this 2 42 Oct 12, 2015 05:24AM  
The Book Club: June 20, 2015, Pre-meeting Notes 15 9 Jun 19, 2015 05:56PM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar 5 34 Jan 23, 2015 05:05AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Daughters of Smoke and Fire
  • Dylan The Biography
  • Little Women: The Official Movie Companion
  • Vanessa Bell
  • Anna's Guide to Getting Even
  • Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
  • The Shades: A Novel
  • Deceived With Kindness
  • The First Book of Calamity Leek
  • How to Catch a Queen (Runaway Royals, #1)
  • The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop--and Why It Matters
  • Incognito
  • Hart's Hollow Farm
  • Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots
  • Come Barbarians
  • Do-It-Yourself Organizing for Dummies
  • In the Fold
  • Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River
See similar books…
Educated at Mount Holyoke College, the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh, Priya Parmar is the author of one previous novel, Exit the Actress.

Her new novel, VANESSA AND HER SISTER, published by Ballantine/Random House is available now.

She divides her time between Hawaii and London.

Related Articles

Emma Straub was all set to spend May on tour promoting her new novel, All Adults Here. Instead, due to the global pandemic, the Brooklyn-based...
14 likes · 5 comments
“I am not waiting. I am not waiting for anyone any more. It was me I was waiting for.” 11 likes
“The rest of us are still living on the borrowed fuel of potential and so far have not left deep footprints. But together we carry a brackish air of importance. As if we are doing something worthy in the world. Maybe how we live our lives is the grand experiment? Mixing company, throwing out customs, using first names, waiting to marry, ignoring the rules, and choosing what to care about. Is that why we matter? Or perhaps Miss Warre-Cornish is right and we do not matter in the least.” 3 likes
More quotes…