This is going to be a tough book for me to review. I liked it so much that I think I may start gushing!
Set in 1905 with its particular background of the Bell family and the Bloomsbury group looming in the background the story is one set amongst intellectuals and artists of the day. These people were very different from the average Joe of the time and this set them apart. Their thinking and way of life was radical. In the book there is no indication of how the world thought of them, because the book is set only amongst characters of their own world so that they were all very much alike.
The Bell family comprised Virginia and Vanessa both unmarried and taking their spinsterhood very seriously. It hung about them like a cloak which had to be got rid of at all costs and in this they were very traditional for their time! the brothers Adrian and Thoby are the younger set. Virginia's first novel has been turned down and Vanessa has still to sell a single painting. They move from their family home to Bloomsbury and this is where the story starts.
Told in a series of diary form interspersed with letters to and fro from various other characters the story though involving a number of people centre around Vanessa and Virginia. The sisters are close and Virginia is almost in love with Vanessa. She is at turns psychotic and normal and does not want Vanessa to have a life or love of her own. When Vanessa does find a partner in Clive, Virginia insidiously seduces Clive, not because she is in love with him but because she does not want Vanessa to find fulfillment in anyone else other than herself. Leave alone a husband, even a friend is not left alone. Virginia has to run interference at some stage and Vanessa just lets her be. I found that very difficult to accept - the blind acceptance of Vanessa of the infidelity of her husband not just with Virginia but with a former mistress and how he blandly talks about it with his wife. Morals of the day I suppose in their circle.
This was an extraordinary book. History at its best with a family which was renowned. I found it extra interesting with the addition of Leonard Woolf as he was a civil servant for the British in both Kandy and Jaffna. He did yeoman service whilst in my country and also wrote a book "The Village in the Jungle" which was a text when I did my O'levels years ago! his snippets from Sri Lanka to the Bells was nostalgic.
This book came to me courtesy of Edelweiss. Thank you so much for this one!