“Double V” by Laura Ulonati, Virginia Woolf in her mirror –

“Double V” by Laura Ulonati, Virginia Woolf in her mirror –

In a powerfully lyrical third novel, French author Laura Ulonati gives body and voice to Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s older sister. A delicate dive into a “broken” family with ubiquitous violence.

Vanessa and Virginia. Two Vs pushed into the Victorian era. Two almost twin sisters, united by the ambition of their emancipatory art. With Double V, her third novel, Laura Ulonati gives voice to the one who paints in the legend’s blind spot, Virginia Woolf’s older sister of terrifying genius.

My sister, my black sun. The other side of the coin, the price to be paid. A pale witch with seaweed hair caresses my cheek; a gesture of love that induces a truce or going to war on me.

Laura Ulonati, “Double V”

It all starts with an exhibition, unveiled at the Center Pompidou in Paris. A reinterpretation of abstract painting, highlighting women painters, largely forgotten by the movement. Among them is Vanessa Bell, whose monochromes hold the narrator’s attention less than the illustrations she designs for the covers of her sister Virginia Woolf’s novels.

The deaf violence of the unspoken world

And this belief, which is expressed in the voice of the other younger sister, the voice of the narrator: “Vanessa Bell is forgotten because of her sister.” Duality, jealousy, the need to sacrifice sisterhood on the altar of glory: so many themes are explored with intoxicating poetic breath in Laura Ulonati’s new novel.

As the older sister herself, the French author plays this famous role to make us feel, in the first person singular, the strength of this relationship made of intense love and cruel deceptions. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s correspondence and diaries, Laura Ulonati paints a haunting portrait of childhood and youth marked by the muted violence of the unspoken world.

It was important for me to find a material dimension in writing, a way for the reader to feel the power of embodiment, the search that drives these women, and myself: to be able to embody, to come to inhabit his body.

Laura Ulonati

Two possibilities of existence in the world

In this universe of corseted London good society, brutality is part of the furniture: a mother who is not very loving and jealous of her daughters, a self-centered and libidinous father, half-brothers with wandering hands, doctors with an omnipresent menace, a family hell that describes “Double V ” has little to do with the wise photographs and cultural nursery idealized by official history.

Endangered bodies, the two young women embody, in their very different ways, two branches of the letter “V”, two possibilities of being in the world and gaining their own independence. Writing, rejecting the life of a traditional woman, Virginia Woolf traces, at the cost of her mental health and the love of her sister, an admirable solitary path.

Vanessa becomes a wife, a mother and pushes her art to the background. The promise of fraternization, however, this collaboration symbolized by Virginia Woolf’s covers, indicates that the two destinies should not be irreconcilable. And the genius bestowed on the youngest tells only part of the story that needs to be rewritten today.

Observing the world also means participating in it; it is not reserved only for the agitated, enraged. For pessimists of reason, optimists of will. They also need people from the background to testify from the sidelines. To try to name, to give shape to reality.

Laura Ulonati, “Double V”

A narrative of strong musicality

Through the interplay of people, through the polyphony she sets up, through the penetration of poetry and countless allusions to the novels of the English author, Laura Ulonati composes a story of strong musicality. A whirlwind of sensations, intimate movements and back and forth between his characters and his autobiography.

Haunted by the water element, a Woolfian theme if ever there was one, “Double V” does much more than pay tribute to the stream of consciousness of “Mrs Dalloway”: it reveals a writing well rooted in its time, a powerful lyricism to tell all the complexity of this conquered identity, the identity of the woman who writes.

Nicolas Julliard/alchor

Laura Ulonati, “Double V”, arr. Acts of the Court.

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