What would say were you to meet your hero or heroine? For Maggie Gee, or at least Angela Lamb, the protagonist of Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, one sentence wasn’t enough – she wrote a whole novel. Gee, Lamb and myself all have one thing in common – a love for Virginia Woolf. In fact, I admit it, I have a major girl crush on her. Beautiful, creative, deep, thoughtful, she’s the woman I would love to be, if it wasn’t for the sometimes tortured existence and tragic ending of her life. But what would the real Virginia be like, not the Virginia fabricated through my own nostalgic and sentimental image of her? And especially what would she be like today, in 2014?
In this three part novel Maggie Gee uses her usual witty and comic manner to discover this very question. Unable to find the manuscripts she seeks in the New York Public Library, best selling author Angela Lamb discovers something better – albeit far more difficult to control: Virginia Woolf herself. Interwoven are the stories of three women, Virginia, Angela, and Angela’s daughter Gerda, traversing the world literally, as well as that of family, responsibility, maturity, friendship, and literature. It’s a playful piece, with stories including Virginia’s trip to McDonalds, a holiday romance in Istanbul, and Gerda’s escape from boarding school, but also touching in its exploration of the relationships between the women.
Reference is made to Woolf’s own work, which is a nice touch for those of us sentimental about the writer, but not a detraction for those unfamiliar with her. Sparkling prose and witty dialogue throughout, Virginia Woolf in Manhattan is not as profound as A Room of One’s Own, or as existential as To The Lighthouse, (neither of which I am sure was her aim), but is a fun and easy read in which one of the world’s most famous modernists and her modern counterparts grapple with the madness of modernity.