Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury

by Sigrid Nunez

The fictionalized biography of Mitz, a marmoset owned by Leonard Woolf, from about the end of the Bloomsbury era to the outbreak of WWII.  Mitz is a mischievous, chattering observer to the Woolfs’ devoted, if a bit Victorian, relationship; their sometimes haughty relationship with their servants and printing press staff; Virginia’s odd adoration of her sister and Vita Sackville-West (who was certainly her literary inferior); their 1935 tour of Europe, including a rather misguided drive through Nazi Germany; Virginia’s breakdown over writing The Years; conversations with T.S. Eliot and others on every topic under the sun; Virginia’s ruminations on war in the face of her nephew volunteering, and dying, in Spain.

It’s a well-crafted novella, certainly informative about certain aspects of the Woolfs’ lives and attitudes.  There are a few awkward narrative choices, as when Nunez flashes to the present day to no particular purpose (“In our own day the eminent critic Harold Blood would find a place for her…”), which are  misplaced and confusing.  And Nunez assumes a great deal of Woolfian knowledge in the reader, mentioning “Vita” and “Tom Eliot” without much in the way of explanation; I know she’s writing as if from within the circle, but it’s doesn’t fully capture the atmosphere if we aren’t clued in to who this “Tom” fellow might be (some sort of Catholic playwright, one might assume).  I also found the penultimate flashback chapter, in which nothing particularly surprising is added to Mitz’s fictional past, quite unnecessary.  But as noted, it is a well-crafted book on the whole, and a light, fun read.  Most importantly, in showing them as pet lovers, friends, spouses, talking and laughing and worrying about war and work, it helps bring human faces to the often crudely-sketched (lesbian, haughty, bipolar) Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

four stars

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