Julia May Jonas – Vladimir

Julia May Jonas – Vladimir

The unnamed 58-year-old narrator and her husband John have been teaching in the English department of a small college for years. From the start, they have found a relaxed way in their relationship, not asking too many questions, but being good partners and caring for their daughter. Now, however, a group of former students accuses John of having abused his power to lure them into affairs. At the same time, a new couple shows up at the college, Vladimir and his wife, both charismatic writers who both fascinate equally. The narrator immediately falls for Vladimir, even more after having read his novel, a feeling she hasn’t known for years and all this in the most complicated situation of her marriage.

Admittedly, I was first drawn to the book because of the cover that was used for another novel I read last year and liked a lot. It would have been a pity to overlook Julia May Jonas’ debut “Vladimir” which brilliantly captures the emotional rollercoaster of a woman who – despite her professional success and being highly esteemed – finds herself in exceptional circumstances and has to reassess her life.

Jonas’ novel really captures the zeitgeist of campus life and the big questions of where men and women actually stand – professionally as well as in their relationship. Even though the narrator has an equal job to her husband, she, after decades of teaching, is still only considered “his wife” and not an independent academic. That she, too, is highly affected in her profession by the allegations against her husband is simply a shame, but I fear that this is just how it would be in real life.

They had an agreement on how their relationship should look like, but now, she has to ask herself is this wasn’t one-sided. She actually had taken the classic role of wife and mother, caring much more for their daughter while he was pursuing his affairs. They had an intellectual bond which was stronger than the bodily but this raises questions in her now. Especially when she becomes aware of what creative potential her longing for Vladimir trigger in her.

A novel which provides a lot of food for thought, especially in the middle section when the narrator is confronted with professional consequences due to her husband’s misbehaviour. The author excellently captures the narrator’s oscillating thoughts and emotions making the novel a great read I’d strongly recommend.

Marie Aubert – Grown Ups

Marie Aubert – Grown Ups

Sisters Ida and Marthe have planned to spend some days together at their cabin close to the sea where they will be joined by their mother and her partner. Ida is reluctant to go there, with her 40th birthday only a couple of weeks ago and still no father for prospective children in view, she knows that her window of becoming a mother is getting closer and closer. This is why she decided to freeze some of her eggs. Yet, it does not hinder her from negative feelings towards Marthe who, now pregnant and stepmother of beautiful 6-year-old Olea, seems – as always – to get everything she wants. Hard feelings accompany Ida and slowly turn their holiday together into a catastrophe.

I totally enjoyed Marie Aubert’s novel as I could easily sympathise with her narrator and protagonist. Additionally, there is some fine irony and humour in the text which make it a great read. The relationship between sisters quite often is all but easy and even as grown-ups, hard feelings and emotional injuries from the childhood can sit deep and hinder them from ever having a healthy bond.

Ida obviously is envious, her sister not only has a living husband but also a lovely stepdaughter and she’s pregnant. Even though Ida is a successful architect, she has never managed to establish a functioning relationship with a partner and feels lonely and somehow failed in life. Always being second, this is how she has grown up, no matter which achievements she reached, there was always Marthe who was ill and thus spoilt those rare moments of joy for Ida. Their mother does not seem to be aware of the difference she makes between the girls – yet, one has also to take into account that we only get Ida’s point of view which quite naturally is not only limited but highly biased.

“It’s not right That it should be so easy for others and so hard for me, I don’t get it, if there’s some sort of formula, a code that others know about, one they’ve known since they were young but which I’ve never quite grasped.”

Ida gets worked up about her sister and is willing to destroy her sister’s life when she is drunk one evening. This is rather tragic to observe and Ida turns into a pitiable character who does not realise that she will be even lonelier if she loses these last persons around her. She is aware of this but cannot act differently.

Marie Aubert’s debut is elegantly narrated, yet, the story leaves you with mixed feelings. It is joyful at times but the dysfunctional family is also an emotional challenge.