A kind thanks to the folks at Soft Skull Press who sent me a copy of Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury by Sigrid Nunez. What a yummy snack of a book this was. It arrived in the mail Monday afternoon and I began reading it Monday night. I finished it on my lunch break at work today. The book is short, 138 pages, a quick read.
Mitz, as you might gather from the title, is a marmoset. For almost five years she lived with Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Mitz came to the Woolfs by accident. They were dining with the Rothschilds, yes those Rothschilds, when Mitz made her appearance. Victor Rothschild had gotten Mitz from a junk shop the week before. Mitz was half dead though Victor didn’t know it at the time. She had rickets, was vitamin deficient because the shop owner only fed her bananas, her fur was dull and falling out, and she had sores where the too tight chain the shop owner had used to tie her up had rubbed her skin. But Mitz had enough spunk to jump up on Leonard who very quickly fell in love with her.
A week later the Rothschilds called the Woolfs to inquire if they would take care of Mitz while they were away on vacation for a month or so. Leonard agreed. Under Leonard’s care Mitz’s sores healed, the rickets went away, and her fur grew back shiny and sleek. When the Rothschilds return from abroad they asked if the Woolfs would like to keep Mitz since she seemed to be doing so well with them. And that’s how Mitz came to spend the remaining years of her life with the Woolfs.
Mitz’s story is lightly told, the words fairly fly by. And along with Mitz we get a view of Virginia and Leonard, their relationship and their lives and a few glimpses of other Bloomsbury characters. The book is fiction but in Nunez’s acknowledgments she explains that much biographical information about the Woolfs was taken from various nonfiction sources including their own diaries and letters.
To give you an idea of what to expect in this book, there is a funny scene involving Mitz and Ethel Smyth. Ethel was hard of hearing and used an ear trumpet. She also liked to talk and talk and talk so no one could get a word in edgewise. One afternoon she was visiting Virginia and yammering on and on, when Mitz suddenly became quite interested in Ethel:
It was the ear trumpet that attracted Mitz, who had seen plenty of humans but never one with a horn. As Ethel was venting herself–a conductor had slighted her, a critic had failed to recognize her genius–Mitz stole onto the sofa beside her. Twice Virginia tried to alert Ethel, but Ethel would not be interrupted. Then, going to brush what she thought was a fly from her arm (Mitz had rested a paw there), Ethel screamed. Mitz screamed back (right into the trumpet) and dashed under the sofa. Ethel shot her feet in the air. Toppling onto her side she struggled to regain balance and dignity, furiously kicking her short legs.
Virginia couldn’t help but laugh and Ethel left in a bit of a huff. Can’t you just picture the whole scene? The book is filled with moments like this as well as when Mitz saved the Woolfs from the Nazis when they were driving through Germany on their way to vacation with Vanessa in Italy.
Mitz is a wonderfully entertaining read that will appeal to anyone who likes Virginia Woolf. If you aren’t a Woolf fan, I don’t know how interesting you’ll find the book to be since most of the pleasure I think comes from already being familiar with the Woolfs. On the other hand, if you just read it for Mitz’s story you may find yourself wanting to know more about Virginia and Leonard. Don’t expect any deep thoughts in the book though, as I said in the beginning, it is a yummy snack.
On a very different topic, Ed, of The Bibliothecary sent me an email last weekend to let me know about BBC7‘s airing of a musical production of Three Men in a Boat. I downloaded it (you don’t have to listen to it online, but can save it on your computer and listen at your leisure) and my husband and I have been listening to it a little at a time these last couple of days. It is great fun. If you are interested in listening to it yourself, it aired on Saturday and you have until Friday to download it. After that it drops off the listen again archive and you miss your chance to hear it unless the BBC airs it again sometime.