Reviews of Vladimir by Julia Jonas


A Novel

by Julia May Jonas

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas X
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 256 pages

    Jan 2023, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter I

Although I had seen and heard Vladimir speak during the master class, the candidates luncheon, and the faculty retreat, I had not had the chance to say more than a few words directly to him until the fall semester. When I first met him, in the spring after he'd been hired as a full-time junior professor, I was coming late to and leaving early from all full-faculty events to avoid having to talk with any of my colleagues. Even sitting three chairs away from Florence was almost too much for me to bear—lightning bolts of anger shot from my vagina to my extremities. I've always felt the origin of anger in my vagina and am surprised it is not mentioned more in literature.

On an early September evening, the first week of the semester, he visited me at my home, and that is when we had our first real conversation. I was enjoying the cool breeze in the sitting room of our town house, drinking mineral water—my rule is that if I am alone I do not drink alcohol until 9 p.m. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Brainstorm some adjectives you would use to describe the narrator, John, Vladimir, Cynthia, and Sid. Do they share any words in common? What aspects of their identities create the biggest rifts between them?
  2. The cultural gap between the narrator's generation and that of her students—particularly in regards to sexual mores and gendered expectations—figures prominently in Vladimir. Recall the note she writes about her class plans (page 6), her thought process after the "Dump His Ass" confrontation (page 30-31), or her discussion with John and Vladimir about the rise of autofiction (page 45). Which of her opinions do you agree with, if any?
  3. The narrator mentions her mother in a few anecdotes, and her relationship with...
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There are barbs about the zeitgeisty, near-constant use of the word "liminal," and the rise of creative nonfiction among students—is it due to narcissism or fear, the narrator wonders. These aren't cruel jokes, though—just recognizable observations if you've been near a college campus recently, lightly mocking but also sympathetic and even appreciative. Yes, sometimes the narrator comes off as a bitch, and her students clownish, but Vladimir is neither a skewering of campus political correctness nor a complete indictment of its protagonist. There is moral reckoning in these pages, sometimes intellectualized and sometimes based on something more primal, like guilt and pain...continued

Full Review Members Only (858 words).

(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

A deliciously dark fable of sex and power... Earmark an entire afternoon to devour this propulsive story of obsession, scandal, and transgressive desire.

Entertainment Weekly
If Netflix's The Chair, Lisa Taddeo's best-seller Three Women, and the most compelling passages of Ottessa Moshfegh's Death in Her Hands had a love child (just go with me here), it would be this fiction debut. With a title character who's a sought-after young novelist new to a college faculty, Vladimir leaves the reader with more questions than answers—about sex, and sexual politics—in the most delicious way.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A conversation at the pool party about why young writers are so drawn to memoir and autofiction, a pronouncement on the best timing for a forbidden cigarette, and advice about cooking tomato sauce are typical of the astuteness of this book on matters literary, psychological, and culinary. Like the man she shackles to a chair in the prologue, once this narrator has you, she won't let go. A remarkable debut.

Deeply engrossing... Jonas' novel is an enthralling, self-aware, and, at times, hilarious critique of academic privilege, while the narrator's journey is a thoughtful allegory for how the old guard is responding to a new world.

Publishers Weekly
[M]ordantly funny...The author generously studs the narrative with clever literary allusions (the narrator describes her mind in contrast to Edna St. Vincent Millay's: 'more like a chaotic battle scene than the unfurling of insight'), and surprisingly upends assumptions about gender, power, and shame. Jonas is off to a strong start.

Author Blurb Lily King, author of Writers and Lovers
Vladimir is a thrilling debut—smart, sharp, and über provocative. I devoured it with fascination and awe.

Author Blurb Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin
Droll, dry, and pacy, Vladimir is deliciously unsparing and enormous fun.

Author Blurb Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go Bernadette
Funny, wise and instantly engaging, Vladimir is how I like my thrill rides: brainy and sexy.

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Beyond the Book

Don Quixote: The First Modern Novel

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza In Vladimir, Julia May Jonas's debut novel, Don Quixote is something of a minor motif. The protagonist and her husband—both English literature professors at a liberal arts college—are fans of the work and have even retraced the famous character's journey through Spain. Late in the novel, the protagonist's husband, who has been accused of sexual assault, implies that he thinks of himself as a modern Don Quixote—"an old man who refuses to see the world as it is."

Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes and published in 1605. The book follows Alonso Quixano, a minor noble whose obsession with chivalric romances drives him mad—he fancies himself a knight, takes on the name Don Quixote, and travels around La...

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