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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Debut, 19 Dec. 2002
Jonathan Hull has written a lovely debut novel in Losing Julia. It is difficult to portray strong emotions such as grief, love and intense fear without crossing the line into trite overwrought sentimentality, yet Hull manages to pull it off.
Losing Julia is told from the point-of-view of eighty-one year old Patrick Delaney and takes us back through his life as a soldier in the trenches of France in World War I, then ten years later to a chance meeting with his best friend's fiancée, Julia, to the present day.
Losing Julia is an elegantly written book about love, the loss of love and the ravages of war on the individual psyche. Although parts of the book can be horrifying, Hull wisely gives us touches of warm-hearted humor as well. The stereotypical crotchety old man, Patrick is, by turns, poetic and sardonic, but he is always lovable.
In the hands of a lesser writer, Losing Julia might have easily become melodramatic...the stuff of a television daytime soap opera, but Hull's writing is so good, so elegant, so classy, that most readers will find they can't help but share Patrick's thoughts and want to make them their own.
Patrick is certainly no cookie-cutter character. He grows and changes immensely from the time he is a struggling, young poet trying to come to terms with the horrors of war, to the wise, and sometimes witty, older man in the nursing home. He never has all the answers, but he really doesn't feel he needs them. I found Hull, and Patrick, to be so correct about our penchant to let the present slip by when Patrick talks about the tendency to live only in regrets for the past or hopes for the future.
Hull's descriptions of the battle scenes in World War I are filled with detail, although some of them do border on the purple. His metaphors tend to be those of a world that is slitting its own wrists and bleeding to death. It's elegant writing, sure, and it it, at times, poetic, but I really doubt that men in battle think that way and this is where I think the book fails a little.
This is not a book that describes war in the graphic way that can be found in Stephen Wright's Meditations in Green, nor is it a book that, I think, that will achieve the staying power of Mark Helprin's classic, A Soldier of the Great War. It is, however, a warm and wonderful story of love and friendship, of loss and gain, and, although the ending is a bit unbelievable, the character of Patrick is still so well-drawn that Losing Julia is an enjoyable and very worthwhile novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning narrative of a great love found ... and lost, 18 Feb. 2004
Amazon Customer (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
In LOSING JULIA, Patrick Delaney is the 81 year old resident of a nursing home, where every morning is the same ...
"Staring at the gaunt silhouette in the mirror, which stares back with imploring eyes, I realize my body has abdicated. The anarchists are on the palace grounds ... I am brought to my swollen knees by a hundred thousand indignities, small slices of the blade that have drained the blood from my face. And I'm so tired."
But, Patrick was young once, fighting in Pershing's doughboy army in the Great War along side his friend Daniel. And, amidst the squalor and death of the trenches, Daniel shares with Patrick stories of his beloved back in California ... Julia. And Patrick, in absentia, falls in love with Julia also.
"... maybe it was just the expression on Daniel's face when he talked about her, but for me, Julia soon became my own escape from the war; my personal guardian angel who beckoned me away from the madness every time I closed my eyes. Daniel offered hundreds of dots and I connected them, until the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen emerged, my angel in the trenches; my incantation against despair. My Julia."
Ten years after the Armistice, in 1928, Patrick returns to France to attend a memorial for his comrades who died twisting in the German barbed wire during an assault on the Hindenberg Line. Unexpectedly, Julia is there, searching through the 152 names engraved on the granite monument, until her fingers stop at ... Daniel's. Partrick approaches, somehow knowing it's Her though they've never before met.
("Julia Julia. What are you doing to me? And what is it about beauty that intimidates; causing us to kneel somewhere deep inside and pray and wonder just how close we might crawl before being banished from the sanctuary?")
And Julia. What does she eventually say to Patrick, and to us?
"... I think that we all look for clues that we are not utterly alone. Clues we find in literature and paintings and music and even in someone's eyes; clues that demonstrate that someone else has felt the same indescribable feelings, seen the same things or passed by the same spot even if it was by candlelight three hundred years ago. It means everything, like finding footprints in the sand of a deserted island.'
Patrick's tragedy is that he came upon Julia's footprints, and then lost them. And the emotional repercussions of that dispossession reverberate down through the decades.
LOSING JULIA, by Jonathan Hull, is one of the most eloquent novels I've read in years. Hull's ability to string words together is, at times, exquisite. It's an epic of comradeship in war, a love story, and a chronicle of growing terminally old with the memories of youth still as fresh as if it was only yesterday. (It's also a searing indictment of the way Americans shunt their old people aside to die - but the book won't be remembered for that.) Poignant, powerful, vivid, profoundly bittersweet, an elegant essay on life, love, and the scars of the emotional losses that we carry to our graves. As Patrick puts it:
"What then is life but a desperate, hilarious, passionate and finally tragic bid to prove that we are more than hideously sensitive fertilizer? The quest! And so we stumble forth, seeking salvation through love and heroism, the royal roads to the soul. Sancho, my horse!"
We all have our Julias, and the reader that would call this novel maudlin simply has not discovered his/hers yet. Give it time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb portrayal of love, loss and the ravages of time, 10 April 2006
I loved this novel by Jonathan Hull, dealing as it does with issues that eventually affect us all. The love affair between the narrator and Julia, told in flashback, is delicately and sensitively handled, drawing the reader inextricably into the story whilst the narrator's insights of day to day life in the nursing home - his slow de-humanisation as his health fails, his humdrum existence and acerbic running commentary - is brilliantly yet disturbingly handled, giving the reader a chilling insight into what sadly lies ahead for most of us.
The final denouement requires the suspension of disbelief but this is a small price to pay for an excellent and moving novel that surely deserves its place amongst the New York Times Best Sellers.
Laurence J Brown (author of "Housecarl" and Cold Heart, Cruel Hand: a novel of Hereward the Wake")
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Losing Julia
Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull (Hardcover - 15 Feb. 2000)
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