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on 3 July 2014
Reading this delightful and extraordinary book sent me back to Virginia Woolf's diaries (which I find inspiring, funny, and heart-rending) and these in turn got me hunting for my copy of 'The Waves', which I have just tracked down and am poised to re-read. I love the way Maggie Gee brings Virginia Woolf to life in this book. I love the ambivalent relationship between Angela Lamb and her daughter, Gerda. Like the previous reviewer, I was thrilled at the way Gee has recreated Woolf's voice, not just her confident writerly voice but the underlying self-doubt and hesitations. Maggie Gee is a recent discovery for me who has quickly become one of my favourite writers. I hope this book will win her many new readers and that some of them will hurry off to (re-)read Woolf's books, too.
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"I have been dragged through time, summoned into this world like a book requisitioned from a distant library." So says Virginia Woolf, who, inexplicably, is resurrected in the Berg collection of manuscripts in New York in the present day. She is 'summoned' by a modern day writer, Angela Lamb, a Woolf enthusiast who is about to give a lecture on her in Istanbul. Thus begins their adventures together in three continents. A great idea; once one gets over the shock of it one asks: what are you going to do with Virginia now she's here? It's a delicious prospect.

A third of their time (and perhaps the best part) is spent in New York. They visit the Met in a vain search for Duncan's, Roger's and Vanessa's pictures. Virginia briefly falls into a depression, realising she will never see the three of them again. But generally she's adventurous, curious, eccentric, part dotty aunt, part helpless, wide-eyed child - or that's how Angela sees her. Virginia gets drunk at the Algonquin Hotel, thinking fondly of Leonard. She delights in the Statue of Liberty, seeing it as "a model of the just female warrior". Best of all, to raise much needed cash, she sells the two pristine first edition copies of her novels which she brought with her from the underworld, inscribed, to a dealer for a colossal sum - this is one of my favourite scenes in the book, it made me laugh aloud. The value of her first editions help to make up for the disappointment in finding two of the big iconic bookstores closed for business - in this section of the book, Maggie Gee has some wry reflections to make on the precarious state of the book world.

The second part seems overlong to me. It takes place on the flight to Istanbul. Here, Virginia's dated, mildly non-pc comments about Jews and servants embarrass Angela, who by now is becoming exasperated by the waywardness of her famous charge. Virginia lacks social awareness; but people seem to take to her in a way they don't take to Angela, which causes some resentment. Virginia's comparative viewpoint gives Gee the opportunity to show, amusingly, how social mores have changed.

The final section has them traipsing around Istanbul which Virginia visited a century ago. They get caught up in a riot, visit a tower and a temple, both of which have personal associations for Virginia; and then she has an adventure all of her own, a surprisingly amorous one which, though it ends in near farce, gives her something which had eluded her all her life. The section ends with the conference in which Angela throws away her academic script and speaks from the heart about Woolf's books and her contribution to culture. She's joined by her fourteen year old daughter, Gerda - whose globe-trotting adventures we've also been following. Gerda reads from a book she's just discovered, 'A Room of One's Own', to the delight of the delegates. Virginia sits - basks - through it all. It is one of the high points of the book, funny and uplifting.

The novel is wonderfully easy to read. It is written in an unusual style, with the voices of the three main protagonists - Virginia, Angela and Gerda - telling their individual stories in brief monologues, interleaved with narrative passages, quotes, conversations, a story by Gerda, etc. Perhaps the interior voices are not quite differentiated enough, although Virginia's on the whole is more poetic than Angela's. Wisely, Gee doesn't try to emulate Woolf's literary voice - even though there are some fine passages which approach it, such as on page 205, describing Woolf's self-sacrificing mother.

I was amused, delighted, carried along by it all, but I have to say I wasn't much moved by it, as one can be by Woolf's life. To me the novel is more a like a highly polished form of entertainment rather than an original meditation; it's points are sharp and witty but the whole lacks depth. Did she capture the personality of Woolf? Or did she make her too much like a dotty aunt abroad? Could she have gone deeper into the existential nature of Woolf's resurrection? Or was she wise to leave all that aside to concentrate on the comedy of the situation? It's for each reader to decide, of course. In the end, I loved the sheer panache of it. Gee's respect and love for Woolf shines through the book, adding to the sum of what we know and feel about her. It's wonderfully original.
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on 8 September 2016
Stunning, imaginative & hilarious! For lovers & admirers of Virginia Woolf.
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on 26 June 2014
... but once you've read it, you probably will.

I absolutely loved this book. Such an intriguing idea – Virginia Woolf comes back to life in 21st century Manhattan – and Maggie Gee explores the repercussions brilliantly. It’s beautifully written (she recreates Woolf’s voice – the endlessly curious, sharply funny voice of the letters and diaries – wonderfully well, but the other characters have their own beautiful ways of talking too) and full of echoes of not only Woolf but Hans Anderson. Like Woolf herself, it manages to take in a staggering range of ideas and human dilemmas – especially mother and daughter relations, but also war, globalization, what it means to be writer etc etc.
What I loved about it most, though, was the warmth and comedy – it’s wickedly funny (at times, I laughed so much that my cat stormed off in a huff). There’s a madcap ‘Travels with my Aunt’ quality to the scenes of Woolf coming to terms with the modern world (taking a fruit knife to a lap top, for example), but there’s also real heartfelt poignancy. A complete pleasure. And a must-read for anyone who is still afraid of Virginia Woolf.
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on 19 August 2014
This novel absorbed and enchanted me, and also surprised me. I hadn't expected it would deal with maternal ambivalence, and the way that Woolf becomes a beloved but exasperating adolescent, so that Angela expresses her feelings about her teenaged daughter by proxy (and the reverse too, in the daughter's need for and love of but exasperation with the mother, and need for separation) is exquisitely and powerfully done. So much truth and compassion and wisdom and insight in all of this. And so much of it made me laugh, too. Gerda is a brilliant creation - her story of the bullying is gripping and clifferhanger-ish, as she means it to be; and the use of the Andersen throughout is wonderful. I cried at the end, just as I did at the beginning. The way that Maggie Gee brings Woolf to life is astonishing. I think she must have been possessed, in the best way.
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on 27 August 2014
A beautifully written novel, full of insight, spontaneity, wisdom and beauty. The parts in Istanbul were gorgeous, and the much-talked-about sex scene was one of the best I've read in fiction. The two cities were evoked with great clarity and beauty, too - I loved the lines comparing New York and Istanbul, saying that Istanbul was like a middle aged woman, and this New York line: "Manhattan was not so safe after all, with its lattice of streets laid bare to the sky."

Virginia really came alive for me and I felt the tenderness and vulnerability in her, and all of the characters. I felt great pity for Angela much of the time, and I thought Maggie Gee did a brilliant job balancing Angela's ego with her self-consciousness, in ways that so often exposed hilarious comedic timing. Like this moment, when Virginia closes her eyes while Angela is talking: "Was it possible she had gone to sleep? Yes, of course she was jealous of me."

The whole "coming back to life" aspect of the novel felt realistic and magical all at the same time; I never doubted or questioned it. And it really made me want to re-read all of Virginia Woolf's books!
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on 23 February 2015
A brave venture indeed but I am still undecided about whether it worked or not. The early pages, where Virginia arises as it were from the river and into the archives of the Berg Collection are quite thrilling. After all, who wouldn't want to encounter this fascinating woman? However, I found the digressions into the parallel life of the daughter distracting and slightly annoying. Overall, I enjoyed the book but felt it could have been more intriguing, more illuminating. Never mind, though. Maggie Gee had this novel idea and has executed it well. All credit to her for almost pulling it off.
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on 14 June 2015
I loved this novel: a love letter to Virginia Woolf, and also to Maggie Gee's daughter. Funny, sharp, inventive, light, dark, and very moving too. Sometimes the daughter subplot felt a little weak, but the gorgeous spirit of the novel just carried me along. Just brilliant. Virginia is a hoot. Highly recommend.
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on 18 January 2015
Really, really, really enjoyed this.Woolf is brought to life vividly, eccentrically and kindly. A really original idea that was both funny and poignant. I'm off to investigate the lady's writings. Frankly, Maggie Gee can do no wrong - everything I've read I've loved!
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on 10 October 2014
Loved it - but then I also love Virginia Woolf. A knowledge of VW's life and work is essential to get the full humour. A great read.
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