Published in February 2022, Vladimir by Julia May Jonas caught my eye with its interesting cover of the torso of a white shirtless man in what appears to be a green tracksuit and a gold chain. They say never judge a book by its cover, but I will say that the cover left me with many questions that led me to want answers by reading Jonas’ debut novel.
CW: sexual assault, infidelity, suicide attempt, drugs, alcohol
About the Book
In Julia May Jonas’ debut novel, Vladimir, readers are drawn in immediately by the premise of the wife’s perspective after her college professor husband is accused of inappropriate relationships with former students. However, it is not what you expect, in that the unnamed main character was aware of her husbands relationships and condoned them in the first place. That being said, also a college professor at the liberal arts college, the main character faces her own backlash as an enabler. In this novel focussed as a character study, readers follow our main character as she develops an obsession of her own on a new faculty member and will do anything to feed this compulsion.
Vladimir will appeal to readers of dark academia, commentaries on the political corruption in academia and the #MeToo movement, or readers of character studies. If you are like me, and do not often read books related to any of those topics, Vladimir appealed to me originally because it is classified as literary fiction and was getting some mixed reviews, so I wanted to read it for myself to see what all of the buzz was about.
I had the opportunity to listen to Vladimir as an audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman who did a wonderful job of capturing the tone and personality of the main character. I typically do not listen to a great deal of fiction on audiobook, I much prefer memoirs or essay collections but Vladimir caught my eye with the buzz it was getting prior to its release from the Indie Next List and early readers.
Now for my thoughts- I truly do not know how I feel after finishing Vladimir. I finished Vladimir over a week ago and I have been sitting thinking about this book ever since. On StoryGraph, I gave Jonas’ debut 3.75 stars because I think I enjoyed it? But I also was left with many questions unanswered and thoughts provoked. Considering this, maybe that was Julia May Jonas’ intention when writing. In interviews, Jonas has mentioned that her intent for writing this novel was as a commentary on sexuality, gender, and power.
After reading, I can definitely see how sexuality, gender, and power were consistently intertwined throughout the novel as the main character is obsessed with her outward presentation, specifically as a post menopausal woman. A college professor at a small liberal arts college, our unnamed main character is extremely egotistic and sees her sexuality and beauty as a form of currency and power in the world she lives in, specifically in a small town. As a middle age woman, she does not find herself worthy of the space she holds and is quite critical of how she presents herself both inside and outside her home.
Considering this, Jonas specifically chose to leave the main character unnamed and I feel that this adds even more to how our main character felt invisible and powerless in a society that puts all of its focus on young woman who are classified with beauty and a ”bright” future in front of them. Vladimir is characterized by the main character’s search for power and beauty externally through an obsession with a younger man and as a result it makes sense why readers do not need to know her name when she is feeling utterly powerless on her own.
I am not trying to spoil anything from Jonas’ debut, but after finishing Vladimir I was left wondering if the main character had grown at all from her infatuation with a younger man or if she is destined to be entwined in another cycle of her self destructive behavior. Let’s just say the ending was intense and I had to listen to it a few times to see if the main character grew at all from her actions.
While I did find Vladimir an enjoyable listen, there are parts of the book that fell short for me. The majority of the book is centered around sexual relationships that are inappropriate due to professor and student power dynamics, however, there is a portion of the book that feels uncomfortable because of non consensual sexual intent. Likewise, although Vladimir is a book written as a character study, I feel we know so little about the characters to truly understand their background and motivations. This relates to how I am unsure of if the characters could be characterized as diverse or not.
If you liked Vladimir, you might like…
- Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl Gonzalez (another character study focussed novel)
- A Year Without a Name: A Memoir by Cyrus Dunham (a memoir with a similar, very brazen writing style) a previous Feminist Book Club pick!
- The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (short stories that leave readers feeling uncomfortable and reflective- read my review here)
Thank you to Simon & Schuster and Avid Reader Press for the opportunity to listen to this book through Libro.fm.
The cover has been pretty controversial – the CEO of Simon & Schuster had a video about how they chose it. I haven’t read it yet but I found the video interesting.