In a fantastical feminist adventure, three generations of women—including Virginia Woolf, back from the grave—travel the world in pursuit of new opportunities.
“Suddenly there’s time again; & I’m in it,” declares Woolf, the internationally acclaimed literary modernist who committed suicide in 1941, now resurrected in 21st-century New York City due to a thunderstorm and the mental focus of another author and critic, Angela Lamb, who travels from London to the U.S. and then Istanbul to deliver a paper at a Woolf conference. Distinguished British author Gee (My Animal Life, 2011, etc.) doesn’t worry too much about the questions arising from her icon’s peculiar comeback; she just breezes forward, rather like the revivified Virginia herself, who becomes increasingly eager to embrace her second chance at life. First published in Britain in 2014, the novel is presented in overlapping conversations as Angela and Virginia explore their sudden relationship, which is variously tetchy, competitive, caring, and celebratory. Angela’s marriage to explorer Edward is failing, and she has parked her beloved teenage daughter, Gerda, at a boarding school in England for safekeeping during her own absence. But Gerda is being bullied at the school and decides to embark on a trip, too, to find her mother and possibly restore her parents’ relationship. Virginia and Angela, meanwhile, enjoy New York, buying clothes, drinking at the Algonquin, and visiting the Statue of Liberty, while bickering over writing, privilege, time passing, and the problems of the book business. Moving on to Istanbul, the novel’s conversations and speculations intensify, as do its longueurs and intermittent feel of a travelogue. But the delivery of Angela’s conference paper, a rousing paean to Woolf, writing, and seizing the day, heralds a moving conclusion.
An imaginative love letter to a literary hero is given vitality, depth, and charm through the playful intelligence of its seasoned author.