Vladimir by Julia May Jonas – Book Review

Well, Vladimir by Julia May Jonas was certainly an interesting read. I had heard mixed things about it but was intrigued by its premise so wanted to read it. Our unnamed narrator is a professor at a small New York university, is in her 50s (she is quite fixated on her age) and has been teaching for over 30 years. Two events happen to throw her life off axis and these are what the book explores.

Opening sentence: When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.

A dangerous obsession

The first event is that her husband, John (also a professor at the university) is accused of indecent conduct with some of his students. She knows that he has affairs – it’s not a secret between them, she has her own too, but she’s thrown into confusion about these allegations.

The second thing is the arrival on campus of author and junior professor of literature, Vladimir Vladinski. He and his wife, Cynthia become somewhat friends with her and John. Although what would more accurately describe it is a fixation.

Our narrator fantasises and obsesses about Vladimir. Younger than her (in his early 40s) it causes her to reflect a lot on her older body and eventually take some drastic steps…

Vanity has always been my poorest quality.

Strange happenings in the woods

Things come to a climax when our narrator and Vladimir take a trip to her family cabin in the woods (in random news: this is the second story I’ve read recently where a family cabin plays a key role, the other was Grown Ups by Marie Aubert) and this is where the story lost me a bit, to be honest.

You brought me here, you cast me in this role – I’m just playing it out for you.

I get that it was an exploration of obsession, power and gender roles but it just felt forced and random to me. Controversial statements or moments seemed to be added in to give an edge to the story but didn’t quite have enough dimension to feel right?

As our lead characters are literary professors, there’s lots of exploring of story structure and themes which I liked (I found The Truants by Kate Weinburg popping into my head while reading). But in terms of the story, I found events in the cabin mad and then the ending twee compared to what came before it; it just didn’t balance for me. Saying that, I did keep reading as I wanted to see the conclusion and then ponder on it.

Have you read Vladimir? I’m always interested in other views when a book didn’t pan out as anticipated for me.

  • Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
  • Get your copy of Vladimir here;
  • Published by Picador 26th May 2022;
  • 256 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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