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.
As you might gather from the title, Mitz 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, 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:
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 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.