Review: Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

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A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own…

“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”

And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.

With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire. 


The cover of Vladimir caught my eye because it reminds me of that picture of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park with his shirt open that has become a meme.

I like the cover and the stories of obsession are always interesting to read. The story is about a post menopausal English professor who’s husband John is suspended from teaching as well at the university due to allegations of sexual misconduct with his students throughout his tenure. In the middle of this scandal, a new husband and wife show up as adjunct English professors. The narrator becomes interested in the husband, Vladimir, and does drastic things to get him to be with her.

It does not feel like that this obsession is as much about her desire for Vladimir as it is about the main character trying to regain a feeling of importance and continue to be relevant in a world that is making her feel old. Since her husband’s accusations against him and is on the fence on whether or not he is going to lose his job, she had to come out and tell people more about her marriage than she wants. She says that John and her had an understanding that they can go outside of their marriage and have affairs as long as it does not interfere with their lives. This idea turns into John having affairs with young students, and even though they were willing participants, he still used his power and his position of authority to get his way. The main character does not encourage this behavior but she also does not see anything wrong with it. The only down side is that this coming into the public knowledge changes the dynamic of their relationship. She rethinks her roles as a wife, as a professor, and as a woman. Vladimir comes along, and he is young, handsome, and fit. He becomes something that she can use to try to prove herself. He is not a real thing for her as much as a prop, an object that she can obsess over and use to prove to her husband, the college, and the world that she still has things to offer. 

The first scene in this novel really grips the reader, and it is another hundred pages before we get back to that point. Those hundred pages unravels the story of a marriage that really has been frayed and has been on threads for years, and this new event could be the thing that finally breaks them apart. The entire novel has a sad tone, one that does not hold out much hope for a good ending, and even though this becomes a completely different novel than it suggests in the first few pages, in the end, all of the characters are in a situation where none of them are really satisfied. The true obsessions is not for the other people around them, but for a sense of peace within themselves.  

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